Adventure Earth Company

The Mountain Kings - Chapter 1

Cairo to Belgium

From the journal of Andrew Ezekial Crawley, 1933.

September 28, 1933, 22:37, Cairo

Having resolved the mystery around the Tomb of the Lost Pharaoh, we returned to the AEC offices in Cairo via automobile. Much to our surprise, Miss Amanda Decker was there to meet us. She explained that due to a team being lost in the Himalayas, all AEC employees were immediately assigned to training in rock climbing. Until this was accomplished, all expeditions were placed on hold. Our team was being routed to Belgium, except Nick and Dumptruck, who were both being sent to Sicily.

This was most unwelcome news on several fronts. I had hoped to return to the States and spend more time with Tsai Su. Additionally, splitting up our team seemed most ominous.

Miss Decker informed us that we would be spending about a week in the Ardennes Mountains with Albert Meinrad, a famous Alpinist and friend of the Colonel. We were then told that we are slated to leave in a Sikorsky S-38 flying boat at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. Oh, and would we please deliver a letter from the Colonel to Mister Meinrad? Now I am back on familiar footing with AEC.

I have spent the last few hours sending a telegram to Tsai Su in the States informing her of my delayed return and asking her if she knew Albert Meinrad. I then remained at the telegraph office, playing chess with the office manager, hoping for a response from Tsai Su. At 10:00 PM I was forced to admit that there would be no return telegraph this evening and returned to the AEC house.

Sadly, Kurt has already fallen asleep in the adjacent room and his snoring is prodigious. I fear I will not get much sleep this evening.

September 29, 1933, 05:51, Cairo

Sadly, I was correct. Luckily Egyptian coffee is strong.

October 1, 1933, 14:38, Marche-les-Dames, Belgium

The flying boat landed on the River Meuse and pulled up to a dock, where a tall ruddy-faced older man with grey-blonde hair was waiting with two cars. We unloaded all of our gear before he moved forward and addressed us, identifying himself as Albert Meinrad. I explained I had a letter for him, but I needed to see some identification proving his identity. He seemed nonplussed for a moment before searching his pockets for his wallet. Sam had already picked his pocket by this point and was holding up Albert’s driver’s license, which listed his name as Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad.

Accepting the driver’s license as proof of his identity, I gave him the letter and had Sam return Albert’s wallet. Albert read the letter, seemingly amused at its contents. He asked after “little Amanda” and I told him Miss Decker was doing well. Apparently Albert knew Miss Decker when she was much younger.

We loaded our luggage into the two Duesenbergs Albert had arranged. He drove the lead car with most of the team while I drove the luggage in the second car. Albert drives quickly.

Albert led the procession east to Marche-les-Dames, a small village east of Namur where he checked us into a small hotel. While he was talking to the proprietor, Jack overheard the proprietor refer to Albert as “Your Grace”. I’m not up on my European nobility, so I cannot hazard a guess as to his actual title, but clearly Albert is a member of the Belgium nobility. This is starting to seem more like one of the Colonel’s “odd jobs” rather than a simple training exercise.

We’ve taken residence in our rooms, where I’m writing this. We have until 6:00 PM to meet with Albert in the Lion’s Cup, a tavern (possibly “the” tavern) here in the village. I plan on looking around the village some before joining Albert. It has occurred to me that we entered Belgium without going through any customs inspection. If we are going to get into any trouble, I’d like to know more about where we are. Maybe there will be a Michelin’s Guide I can peruse if not purchase. I hope they take Egyptian pistoles.

October 1, 1933, 20:11, Marche-les-Dames, Belgium

I’m honestly surprised we are not all in jail. Sam and Kurt were up to something, with Sam pretending to be dead and Kurt believing him. Until we got Sam to the doctor/veterinarian’s office. Sam scared everyone and then angered everyone, all in the same action.

I found the local telegraph office and sent an update telegraph to Tsai Su. Still no response. Ah, well.

At the Lion’s Cup, some drunken locals got belligerent and a full on tavern brawl started, centered on Jack, Kurt, and Sam. Albert was entertained and I won 50 pistoles from him, betting that Jack would be standing at the end of the fight. Albert got us immediately released, and the police were very respectful towards him. How important is Albert locally? When I brought the question up at dinner, he would not go into detail and I was not willing to push. The beer was good.

October 2, 1933, 06:57, Marche-les-Dames, Belgium

Albert has just handed out climbing helmets and gear and we are packing clothing and some supplemental gear. Having done this before, I finished quickly and am writing this while waiting for the others to finish. Our plan seems to be to head “eastwards”, gaining experience by doing. I’m not certain how this will qualify as training.

October 5, 06:25, Ardennes Mountains, Belgium

Last night I think we learned why we are actually here. Albert has moved us steadily eastwards, towards the border with Germany. Due to the Berlin Blitz, none of the team is particularly eager to enter Germany illegally (with the possible exception of Sam, who was not in Berlin with us).

Late last night we made a cold camp. Sam and I stayed at camp while Albert, Jack, and Kurt climbed in the dark to the summit of the hill. Albert had them wait below the actual summit while he climbed up and looked over the other side. Kurt and Jack eventually followed him, much to Albert’s exasperation. The valley beyond was Germany and some men were unloading a crate into a clearing (or so I was told later). After writing something down in a notebook, the three returned to the camp and Albert promptly went to sleep.

Once we were certain Albert was asleep, Jack conferred what they had seen. I wanted to see for myself – partly out of curiosity, partly because I was beginning to suspect this was another mission for the Colonel and not a training session. I put on some eye balm that Kurt got from a local woman (he did not go into details other than to say it was supposed to help with seeing). I’ve heard of similar things used by the natives of Central America, but it did not seem to have any appreciable effect.

Jack and I climbed to the spot where Albert was peering over into Germany. To minimize any noise of our climbing, I climbed slowly and carefully. Jack turned into a mountain lion, a thing he learned to do at the end of the Kilimanjaro Safari from the shaman, Chui. It still unnerves me to look over and see a ferocious-looking big cat moving along within arms reach.

At the peak I was able to spy down into Germany. Using a pair of binoculars, I spotted the group of men, their truck, and the rather large crate they had unloaded. They were in the next valley in a clearing with some standing stones. I wish I could contact Professor Dinsdale and ask him about the stones – he is the European Mythology specialist, not I.

There were Brownshirts standing in a protective ring around the sight, the swastikas on their armbands prominently displayed. Inside that ring were men in black uniforms and men in civilian clothing. The men in civilian clothing and a few of the men in the black uniforms seemed to have a field of sparkles around them, which was odd. When I looked without the binoculars I could still see the sparkles around the men as well as around some of the standing stones. Looking at the stones with the sparkles, they now seemed to have faces with teeth. I looked over to Jack to ask him if he saw anything unusual and he had sparkles around him. Perhaps the eye balm just needed some time to sink in.

We observed the goings on for a while. It consisted mostly of some form of negotiations or argument between the civilians and the men in black uniforms. Eventually the men in black uniforms and the Brownshirts left and the civilians went into the ruins of an old cottage, leaving the crate in the open. Very odd.

Jack and I returned to the camp and informed Kurt and Sam of what we saw. We then set watches and I finally got to sleep. I put Kurt on a different watch than myself so I could sleep without his snoring interfering. It worked well.

October 5, 21:17, Ardennes Mountains, Belgium

A bad day. Albert lost his grip and fell, nearly pulling the rest of us down as well. As it was, he fell into a narrow wooded valley and the tree branches broke his fall, along with his leg, some ribs, and his arm, plus giving him a concussion. Jack used what healing arts he had learned from Chui to stabilize him and we made braces out of tree branches.

Then it started to rain.

Kurt and Jack scouted out the valley quickly while I fashioned a lean-to to keep as much of the rain off Albert as possible. There was not much cover in the valley, but there was a cave at one end. We made an impromptu gurney and carried Albert as carefully as we could to the cave. The small creek that ran through the valley entered the cave and quickly descended to the right. To the left and back was a second cave that was much higher than the water and dry, so we made camp there. There were the remains of an old campfire and the cave seemed to have some ventilation, so we made a fire to keep Albert warm and avoid having him go into shock.

With that done, Jack and I explored the cave a bit and found what appeared to be an old pagan shrine. There were some offerings still there, ranging from some late Roman coins to jars and bottles dating through the 1700s. Nothing seemed to be younger than a century. We decided to avoid buying any trouble and left the shrine alone. The walls were also covered in crude paintings, showing the hunt for a white stag. I took some pictures to show to Dinsdale back in Boston. Possibly even Elijah. In fact, probably Elijah first.

I’m on first watch with Sam now and the night is passing slowly. It is still raining outside, but the creek has not risen appreciably, which is lucky for us. Albert seems to be breathing as well as can be expected and is sleeping, which is a small blessing of its own. However, back when Jack and Kurt were scouting the valley, Albert had been mumbling in a state of delirium. One of the things he said was, “can’t die. Who would become king?”

Is Albert the King of Belgium? Is he a crown prince? Does he think he is a crown prince? I don’t know and right now I really wish I did. If he is royalty, where are his bodyguards? Is that why we are here? Damn the Colonel and his secrecy.

Nothing more to write tonight. Tomorrow we will try to carry Albert to a village with a telegraph and get him proper medical treatment. If worse comes to worse, we can use the Jade Frog on him.

October 6, 02:15, Apple Cottage, Alfheim

My watch stopped several hours ago, the sun is high in the sky, and I am not certain where we actually are. My journal heading is solely based on what the locals have told us.

During Kurt’s watch and while I was asleep, three men and a woman entered the cave from out of the rain. The woman approached our group, stating that we were in danger and we had to leave immediately. Jack woke me up at this point. It isn’t pleasant to wake up with hooded strangers kicking out your fire and stating you must leave your warm refuge.

After the fire was out and while Jack was briefing me, the woman went over to the shrine, which was now in shadows, and started making some peculiar gestures. She then stepped through the wall.

Or rather a door where there once had been wall. I’m not certain how she did that. Two of the men carefully picked up our make-shift gurney and carried Albert through the new door. We followed and exited an adjoining cave into a pleasant meadow with a noonday sun. I checked my watch and discovered it showed 2:15 AM and had stopped.

We walked across the meadow and through an apple orchard, eventually arriving at an ancient cathedral. Unusually, rather than depicting saints in the stained glass windows, there were depictions of various pagan things. Sam was very captivated by the window showing unclad women dancing in a circle. Of the entire cathedral, only the windows seemed untouched by age. The stone was very worn and nearly crumbling in places.

We were lead around and through the great front doors. The interior gave the impression of being abandoned for a very long time. Where the altar should have been were two trees that had been shaped to grow together into a rough throne. A man with blonde hair was sitting on it and he greeted us.

His name (so he told us) is Aubrey, and he is the King of Alfheim (I know I’ve heard that name before, but I can’t quite remember in what context), known as Avalon (which I recognize) or the Isle of Apples (which I’ve never heard of before). His people, the Alfar – the people of the light, are at war with the Svartafar (who I’m guessing are something like the people of the dark or some such), who have made alliances with evil men from our world, bringing a “man of iron” across and tipping the balance of the war. If the Svartafar win in this world, the consequences in our world will be very dire. Aubrey wants us to destroy the man of iron, bring him its heart, and make sure the Svartafar cannot bring any more across. In exchange, he will heal Albert to full health and send us back.

With the black mark on our records left by Mister Parks abandoning us on Kilimanjaro, we cannot really afford to lose another client, even to an accident (and I am really seeing this “rock climbing training” as one of the Colonel’s missions in a different guise). We agree with little debate. Aubrey has Foxglove (the woman from the cave) show us to a cottage in the apple orchard where we can finish resting and where Albert will stay while we defeat the iron golem. Apparently, we will be walking for several days to get to the man of iron.

I wish I knew more about European mythology beyond the basic King Arthur story; it would help me evaluate all of this better. During our audience with Aubrey, he told me that I “have been touched.” I was fatigued and did not ask “touched by what” and now I am concerned what it would cost me to find out. I wonder if he was talking about my birthmark.

I very much wish I had Dinsdale with me or even a relevant volume of the Planetary Guide. There is something subtle going on here that I am missing. I am very tired and must sleep now. Tomorrow (or later this week) we must find a “man of iron” and destroy it.

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PatrickW

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