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.”The company pressed its way through the crowded streets and alleyways of Arona, past carts laden with fish or barrels of olive oil.Shopkeepers hawked their wares, working hard to sell the disinterested pilgrims an assortment of colorful products such as blessed trinkets, straw hats, foodstuffs, and even kittens.On any other day the group would have enjoyed the scene, especially since Heinrich was carrying a pouch filled with gold and silver coins!“There!” cried Rudolf.“There! Look between the roofs and you’ll see the castle.”All heads bent backward, and soon the pilgrims’ faces were fixed on the foreboding gray fortress perched high atop a sheer cliff rising from the shores of the lake.A few helmets glittered in the sun between the merlons, and Wil cursed.“I’m in no mood for this,” he grumbled.The six emerged from Arona through its north gate and soon stood at the foot of the massive cliff.“We need to follow that road like the monk said.” Heinrich surveyed their location.He scanned the crowded roadway now clogged with ox-drawn carts and horses.He turned his face to the flat waters of the lake and suddenly wished they might all just sleep along the peaceful shore.During the pause it was Rudolf who suddenly realized the obvious.“Wil, you didn’t ask the prior who died!”Wil’s jaw loosed and he turned to Rudolf.“What?”“Who died? Which girl?”“What a fool I am!”Frieda was reluctant to let hope rise in her chest.“But, but, Wil, methinks we know—”“You can’t be sure just yet,” interrupted Heinrich.“You only know one thing… that only one is lost.”“And that is sad enough,” added Frieda.“I loved them both.”“Ja,” said Wil.“And I as well.Yet I cannot hope but wish it is my sister who lives.”Tomas had said nothing all that morning.He had always liked Maria, though he often secretly wished misery for Wil.He grumbled, “Enough talk.”“Aye!” answered Wil with fresh life in his voice.“Aye.To the castle!”“Si, you seek Father Pieter? Si.” A guard led the anxious pilgrims through the Rocca di Arona slowly.He began to sing as he strolled, pausing to chat from time to time and stopping once for a tall clay goblet of red wine.Finally, the soldier pointed to the figure of an old man lying flat on his back in the middle of a rose garden.“Pieter.”In an instant, Wil and Frieda sprinted forward.“Pieter! Pieter!” they cried.The napping old fellow didn’t stir until the shadow of six encircling forms blocked his face from the warmth of the noontime sun.“Eh?” He lifted himself to one elbow and shielded his eyes with the other.“What—?”“Pieter!” exclaimed Wil.“‘Tis us! We’ve come!”The old priest nearly leapt to his feet.He shouted his hosannas loudly as he took hold of his staff.“Ha!” He spread his arms wide.“God be praised!” Beaming his familiar gaping, one-toothed smile, he embraced them each.“Wil! My Frieda! Good Helmut and Rudolf! And m’friend for all time, Heinrich! Laus Deo!” Pieter was weeping for joy.He turned to the sixth figure and began to open his arms before he recognized the face.“Tomas?” He dropped his arms and stared.“Ja.Tomas.” The young man’s face was hard.Pieter was flabbergasted.“I… I… well, I—”“We rescued him from the Dragonara,” offered Heinrich.“He wishes to go home with us.”Pieter smiled with reservation.“Well, God’s will be done.” He extended his hand.Tomas stared at the old man for a long moment, then smiled wickedly.He placed his hand firmly in Pieter’s and hissed, “God’s will, then.”“Pieter,” blurted Wil, “we must know of Maria’s fate.” His voice trembled at the sound of his sister’s name.“Is she the one?”“Ja,” answered Pieter matter-of-factly.Wil’s heart sank and Frieda groaned.“I feared as much.”Suddenly realizing the confusion, Pieter cried, “Nay, lad.Maria lives!”Shocked, Wil felt suddenly limp.“She lives? She truly lives?”“Aye, lad! She lives! Come quickly.She is tending the signora’s gardens.”Stunned and staring in disbelief, Wil and Frieda cried out for joy, then quickly turned to follow Pieter [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]