Mature story contains dark themes involving graphic violence and taboo topics that may contain triggers for sensitive readers. Please do not read further if this bothers you.
The Kandric Saga - 18. Chapter 18
Jamon went through his normal duties and made sure the rest of the slaves got fed. He looked up from the cooking fire as Sy came in with the Halfling boy Vondum had found in Slome. He could tell by the look on the boy’s face he had already had quite a training workout this morning.
Sy nodded approval as he noticed most of the kids were busy, “There still be no sign of Kandric or Vondum?”
“No sir. I am beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t feed Porma.”
“Do so. If’n they show up I’ll delay ‘em givin’ the brat the potion until nightfall.”
Jamon nodded. “Sir is a slave allowed to ask a question?”
Sy motioned for Jamon to walk outside of the hut with him. After they were out of easy earshot of the others he smiled and winked, “Scream like you were just hit.”
Jamon let out the best pained yell he could then looked at Sy questioningly.
“It’ll stops the others from thinkin’ they can ask questions whenever they want. You be the lead slave so I’ll allow you to ask questions so long as ya remain polite.”
Jamon’s eyes flashed understanding and he grinned. “How come you act so different when Vondum is here?”
“Vondum found me and trained me when I be nothin’ more then a young whelp runnin’ around eatin’ worms much like ya see many of the young’ans do here. But to be honest, many a folk around here woulda thought me had it good.” He pointed to some kids on the edge of the edge of the cold swamp digging in the frozen mud to emphasize his point. “Vondum sees me cast a Autospell and takes me to gets trained. He looked me straight in the eye and says he be lookin’ fer great things out a me. When I made it out a officer school, he take me aside and puts me in his own personal guard. I owes him lots, so I does what he likes, but it don’t mean I approves of all he do.”
Sy paused, “So what’s really on yer mind?”
Jamon chewed on his lip for a moment, “I don’t know how long I can prevent Conth from talking to his brother. I can’t watch them all the time and I can’t hurt either of them, I just can’t.”
Sy frowned, "Son, yer a slave, if’n yer owner want ya to hurts someones, ya have ta do it. Now having said the down side look at where ya were a few weeks ago to where ya be now! Yer life ain’t a easy one. Being lead slave puts ya at odds with those below ya while really ya be no more then they be. Yet ya get a better life bein’ a lead slave and you’ll learn some skill if ya really put some effort behind the job at hand. Ya also got one other thing goin’ fer ya, Kandric. He’ll treat ya good an fair, but ya must do whats yer told.
“I can’t tell ya what to do none, I can force ya, but can’t just tell ya. But if I was you, I’d be willin’ to dish out a bruise er two to keep what ya have. Besides, I’ll bet money Kandric ain’t gonna keep ya forever. Ya keeps goin’ and you’ll go free and have a good chance at bein’ able to handle slaves in the future. It ain’t a easy job, but it’ll make ya a hell of a living and no one will ever care if you be a slave before or not, only how ya do yer job.”
Sy looked into Jamon’s eyes, “Think about how Kandric turned ya around. Ya went from a stubborn brat hanging on a wall to a real slave without him ever putting a whip to ya. Work from his example, not Vondum’s. Ya can mold a slave or break one in. Kandric knows one can be molded and only moves ta real pain when everything else fails. He’s gonna learn how to break a slave from Vondum, there be no doubt. Part of him even wants ta learn, but he has a heart. A slave handler can have feelin’ they really can. But you need ta decide fer yerself. Look at the two examples of slave handlin’ and decide what be best fer ya.”
Sy paused more for effect than out of thought, “And remember, yer job is ta keep them other slaves in line and get the required jobs done. Anything else be window dressin‘. Maybe, just maybe, ya should make them others do more of the stuff ya be tryin’ ta do. Keepin’ the others busy be yer best tool in keepin’ everyone happy.”
Sy patted Jamon on the back, “Sometimes it is easier to do the work yerself, but in the long run, yer gonna create more problems fer yerself.”
Mylan looked over the goods in the general store again for about the tenth time and back at the list he and Yarney had put together with the help of their other partner, Sibler. They were all looking over the same lists in different parts of the city trying to figure out what to sell and what to buy.
There were some things they had agreed to sell the moment they could get rid of the stuff. The bulky and fragile glass items and silks had already been sold from all three of their wagons as had the valuable silver items. None of them figured such items would be useful in an area ripped by warfare even though they had never seen such an area.
The 8-year-old Shaman trainee rolled up his scroll and sighed. Truth be told, he had no idea what would sell other than food, everyone needed food and with a war going on food would surely be needed. The problem was, the others would certainly think of food as well. If they all carried food it wouldn’t make them as much money because then there would be too much of it.
He glanced back at his guards. As always they were staying well out of the way while keeping close enough to defend him if necessary. He desperately wished he could ask them what he should be looking at, but their orders from Glaster were clear. No help was to be provided on the merchant side of things.
Frustration finally took over. He stuffed the scroll back into his belt and next to stormed out of the store. As he did so he bumped into a boy slightly older than he was.
The lad reacted quickly pushing Mylan back, “Watch where yer goin’!”
Mylan rolled his eyes, “Sorry, I was not paying attention.”
“Sorry?” the older boy taunted, “Sorry? What are you some sort of Merchant sissy?”
One of the guards narrowed his eyes and started to advance only to be stopped by the other.
“Remember Glaster’s orders. They get themselves into and out of trouble on their own. We are only here to protect from robbery or serious injury.”
The guard nodded, “Yea, but he didn’t really do nothin’. The other kid is…”
“This is the type of situation Glaster wants these youngan’s to have to deal with. They need to know what life is really like outside of their comfy palaces.”
As the men watched and talked, Mylan tried to walk away but was grabbed by the older boy. “Hey I ain’t done with ya yet!”
Mylan shook free and faced the boy, “Yes, you are.”
The older boy pushed Mylan down hard. “I’ll tell ya when I’m done with ya!”
Seeing Mylan start to shake A couple of kids standing outside the shop moved over to stand with the other kid, “Ohh, the lil’ kid is gonna cry!”
Just as the two guards were getting concerned enough to move forward another young voice came from across the street, “Back off!”
The two guards looked up to see none other than Prince Klandon walking toward the group. The stunned guards looked up and verified the boy’s identity by finding his own shadow escort. The man and woman following Klandon looked every bit as astonished as Mylan’s guards. Klandon’s behavior toward the others in the caravan had been nothing but cold and standoffish. There was nothing to indicate he so much as noticed, let alone cared about, anyone but himself, until now.
The three boys looked at the newcomer with a mixture of humor and annoyance. Finally the boy who had pushed Mylan to the ground spoke up, “Hey if’n ya wants yer butt kicked too, come over and join us!”
Before anyone could react Klandon broke into a sprint right at the boy. His flying tackle took the boy completely off his feet and flung him to the ground with enough force to not only knock the wind out of the startled youngster, but also crack a couple of ribs as well.
Mylan, although nearly dumbfounded by the assistance, reacted with fighting skills drilled into him by not only his previous teachers, but also Glaster and his new teachers. Still down on the ground he swept the legs out from under the next biggest boy and tossed a handful of dust into the kid’s face. As Mylan stood he kicked the kid with everything he had square in the mouth and nose. Blood erupted from a split lip and a broken nose.
The guard who had first tried to stop the altercation cringed, “Ouch! That had to hurt!”
The other guard nodded, “I’m not sure Mylan was going to cry at all. After seeing the boot he just nailed the poor brat with, I’m betting he was trying to contain some of the rage we saw when he and his brother fought!”
The last of the three boys who had accosted Mylan turned to run only to see Klandon moving to block an easy escape.
Klandon’s eyes were narrowed to mere slits, “You want to mess with the only person who really gives a crap about wantin’ ta be my friend? Well you ain’t goin’ nowhere until one er both of us is done with ya!” Klandon kept his eyes glued to the boy, “Mylan you OK?”
Mylan nodded, still astonished, yet extremely happy to have some vestige of friendship re-established with Klandon. “I will be fine cousin. Do you want him or is he mine?”
Klandon lip twisted up into an evil snarl, “After bein’ such a jerk to ya and you still stickin’ up for me, I’d like the honor!”
Mylan found himself smiling despite the situation and the horrible language usage of Klandon. “Be my guest!”
Klandon didn’t hesitate he rushed straight for the older kid. Just before he came into range of the boy’s prepared stance, he dropped and slid kicking up a large cloud of dust. The only reason anyone knew there was contact was the scream that followed a second later.
Klandon emerged from the dust rubbing his knuckles. “He’ll be needin’ an Healthman.”
The four guards moved in to survey the damage. Within seconds it became clear all three of the older boys would be needing a Healthmen, Channeler, or Shaman assistance. The last boy was by far the worst off. He had a broken ankle and was missing his front two top teeth.
Mylan’s lead guard looked over to Klandon’s guards “What in the name of the gods got into yer charge?”
The female shrugged, “No clue. Klandon just came from a refugee village where he asked a bunch of questions about what would and wouldn’t sell. He then came here and made arrangements for a large purchase of cheap wooden dishes and bronze eating utensils then came out here and saw everything. At first we thought his smirk was do to the fact Mylan was about to get his butt kicked, but then the other two boys joined and Klandon tossed down his weapons, jacket and pouches and ordered us to watch his things.” The woman held up the assembled gear in her hands. “The next thing I know… Well, you saw the rest!”
A squad of town guard moved up and started taking statements. They kept looking at Mylan and Klandon with suspicion. Finally they walked over to the kids, “You two will have to spend a night in jail!”
Mylan’s lead guard next to flipped, “FOR WHAT? They were defending themselves!”
At the same time Mylan’s eyes narrowed and half snarled at the lead guard, “Which one of these thugs is yours? Point him out so I can kick him again!”
Klandon’s lead guard cringed but stepped between the guard who had raised his hand and Mylan. “We’ll deal with his mouthiness.”
“Get out of my…”
Klandon’s guard hardened. “City guard or not, you take a swing on the boy and I will be in jail with them and you will be in the Healthman shop with those three.” The man pointed back to the three boys still sprawled over the street crying their eyes out. “Your choice, buddy.”
Klandon held up his hand, “It’s OK. We’ll go to jail, but them three better be goin’ too.”
“Those three need attention, you two don’t” The city guard growled, but lowered his hand and backed away from Klandon’s guard.
Mylan’s jaw dropped as he pointed to the three bawling kids “But they attacked me!”
Klandon put his hand on Mylan’s shoulder. “It don’t really matter none, does it cousin?”
Mylan looked over at Klandon in complete surprise, “I guess not. But…”
“But what? It was worth it, right?” This time Klandon’s face wore a huge grin.
Mylan knocked off the dust from the original push to the ground and begrudgingly nodded, “Yes, as a matter of fact it was.” Mylan’s lips slowly twisted upward into a smile.
For the first time since Klandon’s mother had died Mylan got a hug from the boy. Klandon once again grinned, “What da you say we try this friendship thing one more time?”
Mylan returned the hug, “Absolutely!”
The woman guard looked at the other three guards, “Umm, why don’t ya’ll go with em. I’m going to go get Glaster.”
Mylan’s lead guard nodded, “Good idea. Might want to bring one of our Healthmen for these three kids too.”
She looked at the three boys all of whom were still crying and holding their injuries. “Good point.”
Kandric entered the Swamp Slums with a sigh. For most the place was dismal, but it was home for Kandric. Seeing Porma chained to Sy’s steed next to the hut he had taken over he glanced up at Vondum, “Until right now I had completely forgotten about Porma.”
“As had I.” Vondum growled. “Do we unleash your much deserved vengeance tonight or do so in the morning?”
Kandric yawned, “I say we wait. It has been a long day between meeting with Monarch and the Governor. I just wish I didn’t have to wait a couple of days to go back into the dungeon below the jail.”
“The Governor had a valid point,” Vondum stated, "the guards getting injured taking out the Gnolls have left Slome a bit shorthanded for a day or two. Besides, you have other matters to attend to including being invited to sit on a planning session with Monarch’s generals tomorrow.
He glanced back to the War Steed Monarch had given him, “I guess. I also need to get Jamon’s brother and the female slave Velert formerly owned settled in.”
“Too bad we couldn’t find a buyer for the girl.” Vondum added while looking back at his own mount carrying the girl.
“At least Velert’s shop will make a perfect place for the guards to rent out kids who are in the jail. It was quite nice of the Governor to not only hand over everything Velert owned but to also completely sanction my new business venture with the guards at the jail.”
“You didn’t give him much maneuver room, Kandric. If he hadn’t done everything you wanted his local guild would have looked very bad. Your agreeing to drop the matter in exchange for those concessions and him agreeing to drop the charges against the boy in the jail gave him an out and he took it. Still I don’t see why you didn’t just sell the girl to him for the offered 100 silver.”
“It was a ridiculously low price, besides, I am sure my mother will be able to use her for duties in the small temple she is constructing. Actually, I think all of my slaves except Jamon will be staying behind under my mother’s watchful eye. She will need kids to look after since my brothers are no longer around!”
“Probably a good idea. It is certainly safer to keep such valuable property relatively safe here than risk almost certainly loosing them in Everone.”
Kandric stopped, “Speaking of Everone, I would like to bring a friend with me down there.”
Vondum’s eyes arched, “Really? Who?”
“A kid from the Slome. He has expressed interest in traveling with me even though I told him of the dangers.”
“You don’t need my permission Kandric.”
Kandric swallowed, “Well, I kind of do. He is a good friend, but he is not as strong or nearly as gifted as I am. I may need your help to cover his back a little.”
Vondum truly scowled, “Are you sayin’ he may not be able to pull his weight?”
“He will try, and he already knows the basics of the situation we are going into, but…” Kandric paused and bit his lip, “But he doesn’t know what it is like to really be pushed.”
Vondum’s scowl slowly faded, “Ahh, what you are really asking is for me to not behave completely trollish with what I expect out of him!”
Kandric managed a bit of a grin, “I would not have worded it quite so crudely, but yes.”
Vondum suddenly lunged out and grabbed Kandric with tickling fingers, “So now I am crude am I?”
Kandric fell to the ground managing to take Vondum with him by kicking him in the back of the knees. Within moments a laughter filled wrestling match was taking place on the outskirts of the Swamp Slums.
Sy stood off to the side watching with a mixture of astonishment and humor. It was the first time in his life he could remember Vondum doing something silly and having fun doing so! Before he was noticed he slid back into the hut. “Jamon, go out and feed Porma something. It looks like he will have to wait yet one more night before his life really changes.”
“Are you sssscertain they are out there?” Falk whispered with a rather cheerful undertone.
“Of course. They believe they have set up the perfect ambush. I can feel almost hear their thoughts. They believe they are nearly ready. Why? Can’t you sense them?”
Lord Falk shook his head slightly under his hood. “I have been trying not to. If I allow them to creep up on usssss, it might make thissss into more of a game than a walk through a park. I may even have to expend a bit more than token energy. At leassst it could be entertaining.”
Master Lannet walked beside his friend. He nodded. “Yes, it very well might make things more interesting. I suppose I could close off all telepathic input, even from my pets. We might actually have to make an effort.” Both chuckled and shook their heads.
A moment later a bloodcurdling scream erupted from the dense trees ahead of them as several Hobgoblins launched themselves out into the open. Lannet sent a brief quiet signal and almost immediately the creatures disappeared again behind black blurs of motion. Master Lannet smiled knowing his winged panthers never gave the attacking wave of Hobgoblins a clue as to what had actually killed them.
Seconds later, another scream was choked off as the second wave of would-be ambushers ran from the trees to find their comrades nowhere in sight. In typical Hobgoblin fashion, lack of understanding gave way to aggression. The five hobs broke into a new charge at their two would-be victims.
Master Lannet watched the two on the far right fly abruptly backwards, propelled on twin spears of lightning. He never ceased to be amazed at his friend’s power and expertise when wielding electricity. The Dwarf looked up at his companion, trying to see the face beneath the ever-present hood. All he could see, as ever, was the faintest hint of blue.
Turning his attention back to the battle, Master Lannet prepared himself to release his own power. Concentrating, he stared hard at the rushing brutes and selected what appeared to be their leader. The energy within began to well up quickly as he felt the synapses in his brain fire in a familiar pattern taught to him well over a century ago. The lead Hobgoblin dropped his axe and grabbed both sides of his head as the poor creature’s mind tried to figure out why it was telling it to fall on its own blade. As the formally blood thirsty beast continued to fight the urge to kill itself, it forgot how to make his legs work and fell face-first to the ground. Finally its brain overloaded and its eyes rolled back. In an attempt to fight its urge to kill itself its brain simply shutdown, turning the attacking Hobgoblin into nothing more than a large infant who would have to start over learning everything from scratch.
The remaining two stopped and stared. Three of their number had fallen before they had even covered half the distance to their targets. Lannet reached out and felt their minds. Fear, panic, desperation, and above all else confusion were flowing out of them. Both leaned their heads back and shrieked in their own language. “Back-up.” Lannet chuckled and shook his head. “Amazing, isn’t it? Absolutely terrified, but still not bright enough to just run away.”
Getting no answer, Lannet looked up at Falk. Falk was turned aside, speaking quietly to the darkness. Lannet looked in the direction Falk was speaking, but could see nothing. Reaching out, he tried to sense a presence, a mind, anything to indicate who or what Falk was speaking to. There was nothing. As hard as he tried to focus his mind master powers, he could detect nothing. Extending even further, out to the Astral Plane, he still found nothing.
“Do not fret, Massster Lannet. Your mind abilitiessss are not malfunctioning. I am talking to a Harkener of the High Guild Council.”
A Harkener, a personal messenger and herald to the High Guild Council, was here? The leader of each Guild has his own personal Harkener, chosen and trained personally, and given special powers to perform their duties. Master Lannet could barley contain his excitement. “Are you joking?”
“I requssssted him to reveal himssssself, but he remains adamant about hissss master forbidding him from involving himself in any battle in which he wassss not ssssent here to join.”
Master Lannet’s face scrunched up in aggravation; “Very well then, let’s get this over with!”
The Hobgoblins’ backup had arrived. Five raiders emerged from the forest on the left and four more from the right and immediately joined the other two in a renewed mad charge. Lord Falk didn’t even turn to face the attack; he simply raised his clawed, blue scaled hand in the direction of the leader on the left side of the dirt path. The smell of ozone fairly assaulted Lannet’s nose and in an instant the animal adept sent commands to his approaching pets to deal with the four on the right.
The hairs on Lannet’s arm began to stand on end as a searing light erupted from Falk’s outstretched hand. The white hot bolt of electricity leapt across the clearing, striking the Hob leader in the chest. Instead of being thrown, the beast stood there shaking violently for nearly a second until, suddenly, two more bolts came from its back. The two bolts flew the short distance to his two nearest comrades, striking them amid-chests. And from both, two more fingers of lightning launched hitting the last four simultaneously.
Meanwhile on the other side of the road the four charging figures fell as four huge winged panthers swooped down soundlessly, their claws and teeth ripping the life out of the Hobgoblins before they had a chance to realize they were under attack.
In mere seconds the ridiculously lopsided battle was finished. Within moments the spell was over as was the need for the winged panthers to do more damage. Lord Falk’s fingers closed, choking off the flow of power and ending the spell. Lannet glanced over the charred bodies of the Hobgoblins as his pets left the dead on the far side of the road and moved in cautiously, sniffing the air around what remained of Flak’s victims.
Falk smiled, “Maybe we will get lucky and a real challenge will pressssent itself later.” He turned his attention away from Master Lannet and spoke briefly to the air in a language Lannet thought sounded like Draconian. Before Lannet’s eyes, the night parted, not unlike a curtain, and a man stepped through.
The Harkener was a human male, average height and athletically built. Lannet was never any good at guessing human ages so he did not bother to try. The figure had shoulder-length, dark brown hair and stern looking hazel eyes. He wore no guild insignia or indications of rank, but was well dressed in tan trousers, long brown cloak and brown tunic. On the tunic, however, Lannet saw emblazoned upon the chest the stylized eagle design of the Eagle Sect. Elvin Silver Steel bracers adorned his fore arms and he carried a staff which was obviously magical, as one end of it was glowing, giving off soft, warm light.
The Harkener bowed slightly to acknowledge Lannet, and then turned to address Lord Falk. A very proper move, as to do more in the presence of a higher ranked being would have been improper. From this moment on, Lannet knew he would be almost entirely ignored. “Lord Falk, I bring you greetings from The Supreme Sorcerer. He respectfully requests your presence at the Sanctorum.”
The Sanctorum, Lannet thought. The other dimensional home of the High Guild Council. The Supreme Sorcerer was the highest ranked member of the Sorcerer’s Guild and the leader of it. Few ever knew the name or identity of the High Guild Council members; they were only referred to by their titles. They almost never left the Sanctorum either. They conducted next to all of their business through their Harkeners. As far as anyone knew it was as close as a mortal ever got to becoming a god.
Lord Falk nodded gently, looking down at the Harkener. “I cannot help but wonder…why doesss the Sssupreme Sssorcerer sssend the Harkener of The Lord Warrior do deliver his communicationssss? Why not sssend hisss own beloved Harkener?”
“Forgive me, Lord, but The Supreme Sorcerer’s Harkener was killed recently. He was on a mission to address a powerful sorcerer. The sorcerer killed the Harkener in defiance of the Council. My master, The Lord Warrior, out of friendship, agreed to lend my services.”
Falk again nodded, then waved his hand before the Harkener. “Ah, so there is one less Legendary Echelon Sorcerer in the world?”
The Harkener smiled, “I believe you know the answer to your question Lord Falk.”
Falk snorted, “Indeed I do, I should have worded it more asss a sssstatement than a quesssstion. Your communication be delivered. I will give the invitation thought. Now leave usss.”
The Harkener bowed deeply and took one step back. Again, like a curtain closing, the night surrounded him and he disappeared. Lannet looked around the field as he and Falk began looking over the dead and collected what was useful. Master Lannet couldn’t help but chuckle at his pets. They were feeding upon the charred bodies of the fallen hobs. Apparently Hobgoblins tasted better when cooked. As the winged panther were enjoying their feast, Lannet sent them a message to catch up when they finished as they once again started walking towards their destination.
As they walked, Lannet spoke up to his friend. “Forgive me, Lord Falk, but I do not understand something. I have never heard of anyone being summoned to the Sanctorum.”
“There probably be an explanation for thissss. To put it bluntly, it hasss not happened in nearly a century. ”
“But then, if it is so rare, how can you be blasé about it?”
“Because, there be only one explanation why the invitation be ever put forth. The Council member wantsssss to retire, and he be looking for a replacement. There be the reassssson why he accepted the offer of the Lord Warrior. The Council membersss are very attached to their Harkenersss, but Harkenersss do get killed occassssionally. The Sssorcerer Sssuperior could have easssily found a replacement, but apparently decided to retire inssstead. Asss for the invitation, I must deliberate over it carefully. For to accept the invitation be to accept the offer.”
Lannet walked on in silence. The very thought of his friend possibly becoming the next Supreme Sorcerer was a mix of conflicting emotions. Falk was Legendary Echelon, high Legendary, and was widely considered one of the highest ranked sorcerers in the known world, yet an offer to become the Supreme Sorcerer made him wonder just how powerful Falk was. Lannet glanced one more time at his companion. Matters were certainly getting more complicated lately.
Together the two travelers continued on through the night both wondering what was really going on. The Supreme Sorcerer wanting to retire at the same time the gods were becoming more and more directly involved with mortal affairs had to be more then a coincidence didn’t it?
Salostar opened the door for his Prince. He took a deep breath and glanced over at Kolarian. Getting a nod the pair entered the Grand Council Chambers of the Alphar leadership and took a stance of guards behind their liege.
Already the room was filling. Each of the Alphar princes and princesses were taking their seats around the pure silver table engraved with each of their coat of arms. As with their own Prince the two guards noticed all the others brought exactly two guards with them. There was no conversation as the last of the royalty filed in. Finally a series of chimes sounded and the assembled royalty stood as if one.
From the far side of the room a pair of Alphar wearing Elvin Silver Steel Chain armor escorted in a woman of amazing grace and even more stunning looks. She looked over the room and preformed an Elvin bow. As if all the other royalty were attached to stings held by one puppet master they all swept down to match her.
She at last stood and raised her hand. The chimes again sounded and the assembly took their seats again perfectly timed. She smiled, “The Alphar court is now in session for the first time in over 50 years. It is my pleasure to announce all royal families have grown in number and strength. May the glories of the Alphar nation ring with song and joy.”
With formalities over the woman took a seat and gestured to one of her own guards. The man stepped forward as unrolled a scroll. “This meeting has been called by Prince Rovanall of the great house of Wellaras. Prince Rovanall, it would please this court if you would step forward and take the floor!”
Prince Rovanall stood and bowed until the chimes once again sounded. He then moved forward to take a stand at a silver and gold podium. As he did so two banners dropped from the ceiling, both adorned with his family crest.
Throwing back his green robe to show his silver and emerald royal breastplate of his armor, he made a bow. “Thank you my queen. May long life and the Glory of the Alphar Kingdom continue to shine on your splendid rulership.”
The woman smiled, “Please tell this honored assembly of the need for this meeting.”
Prince Rovanall shifted, “As you all know I was forced to expel my daughter from my court several years ago. She was my oldest and therefore in line to take over for me upon my death. This action weighed heavily on my heart, yet in keeping with the Alphar law I had no choice. I kept her oldest in my home as a servant from the time he was born. Unfortunately, he too had to be expelled because my daughter used her Alphar heritage training in an attempt to aid her Human husband. Even though her actions failed to save his life, my decree was her son would only remain in my court as long as she maintained a mundane existence.”
The queen nodded, “This we all know as your runners sent us written updates as to your actions. Still we thank you for refreshing our memories. So, why call a meeting requiring all the great houses to attend over an internal family matter?”
“Highness” Prince Rovanall bowed again, “The internal family matter has been rectified by my daughter’s ability to properly raise her children without any influence of her heritage other than an occasional helpful nudge from my people. Unfortunately matters closer to home kept me very much overwhelmed and unable to keep proper tabs on my estranged daughter and her children. Recently, I was once again able to send my people to check on them, only then did I realize the need to bring them back into the Alphar nation!”
The queen frowned, “There is no need for a vote of any kind for you to bring your daughter back to your house, Prince Rovanall.”
“Highness, I understand this. However, there are complications. I would like to allow two of my personal guards to come forward and explain, for they can far better put forward the situation for they have witnessed it first hand.”
“This is a most unusual request Prince Rovanall,” The Queen sounded skeptical, “is there any protests to this request?”
Although many of the other assembled princes and princesses glanced at each other none spoke before the chimes above sounded an end to the allotted protest time. The Queen stood, “Very well, your request is granted. Have them approach me!”
Prince Rovanall bowed again, “Salostar, Kolarian, drop your guard weapons where you stand and approach Queen Jostallas!”
The two exchanged startled looks while complying with the order. They advanced and bowed in unison upon reaching the edge of the green carpet surrounding the Queen’s throne.
Queen Jostallas stood and took her scepter from the holding spot on her thrown chair, “The queen looked deeply into the eyes of the two Elves and hid a smile as she saw some of their confusion. She decided an explanation was in order, ”This court has strict rules of evidence, first only those who have been eyewitness can testify before it, this is due to the fact the podium is magical and prevents outright lies. Second, only permanent members of high royalty with land holds may speak to a full assembly."
The queen touched each Elf on the top of his head with the scepter as she continued to speak, “Because only upper members of royalty may address the Alphar High Council, I grant you both the position of Count. I also grant you each a parcel of land covering half of Mount Redfox meaning between the two of you, the mountain is now completely owned. The mountain is in the middle of the highlands of our territory and is raw untamed land. The two of you will have to decide on how to divide up your new lands. Now you may address this court!”
Salostar was first to take the podium. Although still reeling from his sudden and meteoric rise in power within the Alphar hierarchy, he managed to explain the hardships of becoming trained in the human world and the fact three of Kaylaria’s boys were well beyond Primary Echelon. This revelation caused a rare round of astonished and disbelieving mutters to roll over the royal court.
Salostar pressed home the point of how powerful the boys were by informing them of his eyewitness account of how Kandric and his mother teamed up to destroy a cloud demon in a single volley of magical energies. As he looked over the assembled Royal leaders of the Alphar nation he noticed more than a few spell casters looking at their own hands as if to wonder if they had such powers within themselves.
Kolarian then took over telling the assembly of what he witnessed and just how advanced the other boys in question were by telling of the attack on the caravan and the subsequent assistance by the gods themselves. Allowing the new round of mumbled statements of disbelief to fade, he took a deep breath. “The facts are not nearly as simple as you have heard so far. Everone is a focal point of something major, yes, for as you have heard even the gods have taken a personal interest. It is our belief this constitutes a need to send in real Alphar forces to help them.”
A roar broke out in the room as several started stating their own opinions; it took four full rings of the chimes to bring some semblance of calm back to the hall.
Queen Jostallas stood, “This is a bold statement, but simply having three royal blood Alphar moving on a central location led by the gods is not reason enough, at least in my opinion, to send out a call for arms.”
Prince Rovanall shook his head, “I am willing to act alone if need be, for this is my own blood line we are talking about. However, my queen, there is one last detail the council needs to hear. Kolarian, please finish telling the court what you know to be fact about one of the figures involved in the background of the events revolving around Everone.”
Kolarian took a step nervously to the side, “This is not just about three Alphar of clear royal heritage engaging in some sort of supreme battle for unknown reasons. We have first hand accounts of a Drow of at least Expert Echelon abilities being involved, a Shaman by the name of Gardagem.”
The silence was complete as this last announcement was made. Several of the older faces turned pale while others looked around in bewilderment. Prince Rovanall was taken off guard by the sudden deathly quiet, “My Queen, am I missing something?”
Queen Jostallas pulled a silk handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her brow, “Indeed, Rovanall, indeed.” The mere fact she did not address him by proper title said far more than her shaking voice did.
Prince Rovanall frowned when nothing else was said. Looking around, he could tell he was not the only one in the dark over this matter. It seemed all of the younger princes and princesses were at an equal loss as to the sudden mood shift. “I believe those of us without knowledge need an update.”
Prince Fallindor, the oldest member of the High Royal Court, stood. “Prince Rovanall, the name Gardagem is not one we ever wanted to hear again. Indeed it is a name we thought would never have to be spoken of again.” Seeing he was about to be interrupted he held up a hand to stop any questions. “Give me a moment to compose and I will fill you all in.”
Prince Fallindor used a cane to help him as he moved up to the podium, motioning everyone else to take a seat. As he did so, the banners behind the podium were raised and those with Prince Fallindor’s family crest fell in their place as he finally made it to the podium. “To understand you all must first put up with a little history lesson, one you will not find written, one we hoped would never have to be told!”
Prince Fallindor pointed to Solastar, “Young Count, would you please fetch a few servants and have them bring wine and fruit. We will all need the wine to ease our nerves and the fruit to calm our stomachs as this information is handed out.”
Solastar looked over to Prince Rovanall. Getting a nod he hurried out of the Great Hall. He didn’t know what was going on, but judging by the mood of the older members of the Royal Council, something terrible had reared an ugly head, and it really bothered him he had been one of the news bearers. Even though he was still responsible for Prince Rovanall’s protection, keeping himself in one piece was becoming more and more of a concern as the thoughts of the age old adage, “Do not kill the Messenger” kept running though his head.
Prince Fallindor waited for the servants to clear out and took a sip of the wine in front of him. The hall was uncomfortably silent as he finally started speaking. “This starts at the end of the Elvish Dwarvin war some 1000 years ago. We forged a treaty with the Garm. The lower Elves and Dwarves fell in line quickly; however, the Drow refused to acknowledge the treaty and continued to fight. In their bloodlust, they turned their weapons on all of us, Elf, Dwarf, Garm, Alphar, it made no difference to them. As their support wavered and defeat seemed a possibility their desperation grew. They changed tactics, singling out the Garm. In the following couple of decades the Drow hit the High Dwarves hard by sneaking into strongholds and poisoning wells, executing unarmed parents in front of their young, and in some cases even slitting the throats of children in their beds. They forged a new motto, words which sadden our hearts to know they were spoken by those who had Elvish blood. In simple terms it stated: The only crime is allowing a Garm to live.”
"The Alphar court was shaken to the core as the Garm brought reports of the Drow’s deeds to our attention. At first we did not believe, but we stuck to the treaty and sent our people to investigate their claims. In short order the truth of the Garm’s claims became all too apparent. The final draw was an assault on a Garm stronghold which was helping protect Human and Halfling refugees from a major Orc offensive on the edge of the Silver Spine Mountains.
"The Drow got inside somehow and killed everyone including the refugees. There was evidence the Drow had forced hundreds of children to walk up to the top spires of the stronghold and either forced them to jump or pushed them off one by one while their parents watched helplessly tied to posts where they were later burned. This lead to the days of rage where anyone with even the slightest of Drow blood was hunted down and executed by Dwarves and Elves alike. As word spread the lower races of Halfling and Humans joined in the hunt. It didn’t take long before a rumor of someone having Drow blood in them was enough for execution. Realizing things were totally out of control and spreading, the Garm and Alphar councils met and hammered out an alliance.
"Together we, the Alphar, and the Garm mounted an all out attack on the Drow capitol, Under River. We succeeded in wiping out all resistance leading to the city, but the city itself proved to be impossible to capture. There were too many passages and the Drow knew them too well. Making matters worse, the Drow leadership had somehow convinced the non-Drow residents they were to all be executed by us so support within the city of Under River was united against us. We withdrew. However, we managed to close up Under River — lock it up. In their weakened state the Drow could hold their city, but couldn’t prevent us from locking them in forever. The locking up of Under River, of course, is in our history books. However, the rest remained unwritten.
"There is yet one more event which leads directly to our renewed concern. In addition to the fore mentioned non-written history there was another event no one wanted talked about. Just over 800 years ago a Drow, one who was certainly part of the slaughter inside the Garm fortress, managed to get out of Under River when we sent in a scouting party. He killed eight of us, four Garm and four Alphar. We tried to track him down, but he escaped and we thought he went into hiding. In reality he traveled the world searching for pockets of Drow who had survived the slaughter of the Days of Rage. It took him 100 years, yet he finally managed to gather an army with a goal to reopen the sealed entrances Under River.
“We found out about this army and attacked. It was a battle never written about because we, along with Garm forces, wiped them out. We didn’t take prisoners. We didn’t allow any mercy. Nor did we simply stop with their army. Every single Drow man, woman and child associated with the force was killed. Yet we still didn’t even draw the line there. We also killed every slave, every human supporter, every monster race supporter and their families as well. Our forces were still not satisfied. We had drawn a final line against the Drow and were not going let the Drow regain a foothold in the world ever again! We continued the purge to include every village in the knolls so there was no chance of any word of the battle getting out. Neither us nor the Garm wanted the world to know the Drow posed any threat out of fear word would spread and other Drow would come out of hiding and try it all over again. It was only by luck we found out about the planned attempt to reopen Under River in time to react as it was. It was also the last time Garm or Alphar forces were used in battle. Today you know the place as the Split Rock Knolls in the deep swamps just above the Silver Spine Mountains.”
Prince Fallindor took a long gulp of wine then continued. “As much as I would love to say the story ended there, it does not. As we wiped up the traces of the slaughter as best we could, we came across the body of the Drow who had originally escaped from Under River. In his belt he had a scroll, a letter from someone who was watching and training his son in the arts of being a Shaman. The child’s name was none other than Gardagem. In a written reply the Drow had not been able to finish let alone send, there was mention of the boy, Gardagem. It seems his father had had a map tattooed on his son’s arm as to the location of a secret entrance into and out of Under River which the scouts we had originally sent in had found and how he had escaped from its depths. Over the centuries we have had no luck retracing the steps of the doomed patrol nor have we ever found a way in to Under River other than those we have sealed. Apparently the boy didn’t know what the tattoo was, but in the letter were instructions to inform the boy what the weird markings were.”
Finishing his wine, Prince Fallindor shook, “The younger races tend to forget and Drow, although looked down on and generally hated, are not outrightly attacked any more. The Drow have a chance to slowly rejoin our world, but Gardagem holds a key which could well reestablish a Drow Kingdom and it sounds as if he is powerful enough to do so. Worse yet he may already be building forces to support one. While we tolerate the existence of some Drow living independently, we cannot allow a new Drow Kingdom and there is no way we can allow the old one to resurface! The news we have heard today is of the gravest sort. We must inform the Garm and prepare to assist the three young Alphar!”
Queen Jostallas nodded nervously, “I see no choice, we need to reopen the Hall of Friendship for the first time in almost 500 years and ready it for a joint Alphar Garm council meeting. I fear we may also need to send word to the Garm of the possible need to reopen the Hall of Strength for a joint Garm Alphar war council meeting!”
Queen Jostallas held up her hand to keep everyone quiet, “In the meantime I expect each of you to prepare troops to send into a coming war. Prince Rovanall, from your words I gather you were ready to act alone if so allowed?”
“I was and am my Queen.” Prince Rovanall bowed.
The woman nodded, “Excellent! I give you authority to commence operations to help your grandsons in any way necessary without outrightly revealing the aid is coming from the Alphar nation. Because of this I expect only half the troops we would normally require from your house.”
Startled, yet pleased, Prince Rovanall stood, “I understand my queen; I can begin by week’s end.”
Queen Jostallas then turned to Salostar and Kolarian, “I order you to return to Prince Rovanall’s grandsons and render full aid to them. Which of the three is in the least danger?”
Solastar gave it some thought, “Highness, Kandric is the most powerful, but all of them are in clear danger.”
The queen frowned, “Very well, one of you take this Conner the other take Aster. You are to be their guardian angles from a distance. Find any threats to them and eliminate them before they can get close. I will send one of my own specialists to do likewise for this Kandric.” Standing she bowed, “This court is dismissed. Stay close, however. The Garm will not take long to arrive once they hear from me!”
Kandric woke and stretched as he did so, he could feel the cold leaking through the cracks of the small hut muttered, “Alright, Syria, you can let spring get here already.”
Vondum snickered and rubbed Kandric’s thigh under the blankets, “I hear you. You realize it snowed yet again last night?”
Kandric played with Vondum’s manhood, “This is crazy, the planting day is only a couple of weeks away and not only has the frost not broken the snow hasn’t stopped falling!”
Vondum nodded, “Indeed. You would think with your killing of the ice demon, the world would be a little less cold wouldn’t you?”
Kandric giggled, “Yes, one would think there should be a link.” He shuddered slightly as he started to climb out of bed, “Gee it is cold!”
Vondum shook his head, “Stay under the blankets, I think it is time you leaned something about having slaves.”
Kandric raised an eyebrow but remained silent.
Vondum grinned, “Watch and learn my splendid boy!”
Taking in a deep breath Vondum yelled out, “Jamon, Conth, get in here!”
Only a few moments passed before Jamon, his young brother and Conth all came scurrying in.
Vondum looked at Jamon’s brother, “Teaching him about his new life already?”
Jamon lowered his eyes, “Yes sir.”
“Good. You three gather our clothing and warm them over a fire. When they are nice and comfortable bring them back in and dress us.”
Jamon pointed to the clothing, “Grab everything and let’s get to work.”
Vondum noticed Jamon did nothing other than give instructions and looked at Kandric as the boys hurried out. “Have you talked to him about being a lead slave?”
“Because he is either learning very quickly or is getting some coaching. He is giving the orders and not doing the work.”
“Should I be happy or mad?”
“Happy. You need a lead slave who gets things done by using the others. I’ll bet Sy talked to him. The only question is did he ask or did Sy just get a sudden case of being too nice. He has a bad tendency to help more than he should sometimes.”
Kandric laid back and enjoyed the feel of skin on skin until the boys came back in.
Jamon ignored Conth and Vondum, instead concentrated on instructing his brother on dressing someone else. The young boy was at first embarrassed, but the constant pressure of his older brother pushed him past his modesty instead focusing him in on doing what was required.
Kandric felt more than a little silly, but the feel of warm clothing on such a cold morning was a wonderful sensation. As he watched the boy struggle to do what his older bother was telling him he couldn’t but help admire the boy’s looks. His dark brown eyes, pug nose and long sandy hair coupled with his look of concentration and frustration was absolutely adorable.
By the time Kandric was fully dressed Vondum and Conth had already left the hut. “Jamon, have you told your brother anything about what I may want?”
Jamon looked at the floor and kicked at the dirt, “No. Please just let me…”
Kandric looked down at the cute little boy looking back and forth between them, clearly wondering what he was missing. Kandric held up his hand, “Do not worry, it will be his job to dress me and have my clothing at a proper temperature every morning and undress me every night. He is to be ready for bed and in a nightshirt before his nightly duties, and he is to be put to work keeping my hut, cave or campsite clean and a fire going when needed. Once in a while I might give him a bath, and when I do I expect no complaints or questions about where my hands go. Those are his only duties as long as you continue to perform up to standards and keep the other slaves in line. Otherwise I may start expecting more out of him. He will be joining both of us as we go down to Everone so I will need you to select one of the others to take over while you are traveling with me. Last but not least he needs to fully understand my rules for slave conduct, especially about when he can eat. Any questions?”
Jamon knew Kandric was basically giving his brother a free ride as a slave as long as Jamon did what Kandric wanted and would basically demand anyway. Jamon’s eyes glinted with relief and joy, “No questions. I will get things set up as you wish!”
Conth came back into the hut with a plate of food, “Kandric, here is breakfast. Vondum wants to know when you will be ready for Porma.”
Kandric frowned at the mention of Porma’s name, “As soon as I am finished eating. Part of me is looking forward to seeing what Vondum is going to put him though while part of me feels sorry for the kid.”
Conth swallowed hard, “Don’t feel bad for him, He has been nothing but trouble since I first met him.”
Kandric didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “It amazes me he ever had any friends.” Shrugging, Kandric took a bite of dagger boar, “Inform Vondum I will be there shortly.”
Kandric entered the slave hut and saw Sy was tying Porma securely to a board. The boy continued to resist, but had no real chance against someone with Sy’s build.
Sy at last stood up, “They be as tight as I can make em Vondum.”
Vondum’s grin was the cruelest thing Kandric could ever remember seeing. "Good. Looking down at Porma, Vondum held up a bright yellow potion. Don’t worry those ropes will be nice and loose by the time this finishes it work.
Porma didn’t know what was it was going to do to him but his eyes were filled with terror. He tried to squirm but he couldn’t move at all. In fact the ropes were so tight they were cutting off his circulation and making it almost impossible to breathe.
Vondum looked over to Kandric, “This honor should be all yours. Hold his nose shut, shove this in his mouth and hold his lips closed he will have to drink before he can breath again.”
Kandric looked into the boy’s eyes and felt a pang of guilt but the memory of the iron dagger being pressed against his skin flooded his memory. Quickly he followed Vondum’s instructions and held his hand over Porma’s mouth until he saw the boy swallow a couple of times. Letting go of the older boy’s nose he let him breathe for a few seconds before once again clamping down on his nose. “Swallow all of it!” Kandric shouted at the helpless teen.
Vondum’s lips twisted upwards, “Excellent. Now stand back, watch and listen.”
Kandric took a few steps back and stood next to Vondum and Sy. A few moments later Porma’s face contorted in pure agony. Seconds later the boy’s body started making popping noises. Porma started screaming as he felt his bones shrink inside his body, then the rest of his body seemed to shrink as well to fit the new bone sizes. As this occurred, the boy’s stomach slowly started bulging more and more. It started in his hands then his arm and finally his shoulders and chest. Finally the potion went to work on the boy’s upper legs, lower legs and lastly his feet. Just when he thought it was over the bones on his face started crunching. It wasn’t until he stated feeling his adult teeth literally popping out of his open mouth because his jaw was shrinking to a size too small for the bigger teeth to handle before he realized what he was feeling was not an illusion, it was really happening. He passed out still screaming.
Kandric watched wondering what was happening. At first Porma’s body looked like it was going soft, loosing its shape, then the boy’s skin started shrinking. With each round of shrinkage the boy’s stomach puffed further out until it was hugely out of proportion with the rest of his body. Kandric cringed as he wondered at what point Porma would explode. It took almost an hour before Kandric found himself looking at a boy, with a massively extended stomach, who appeared to be no older than 7.
Vondum nodded in satisfaction as he saw the now younger version of Porma was still breathing, “His gut will reduce in size after he throws up a few times and uses up the rest for food. One of the side effects of the reduction in size is all the excess is transferred to the stomach.” Vondum rubbed his hand over Porma’s soft face with a smirk, “I prefer to keep them just a little older; I guess this mixture was just a tad hot. Makes no difference, though. I gather you can still use him can’t you Kandric?”
Kandric was almost at a lose for words. “Umm, yea,” shaking his head to clear it a little his voice strengthened, “Yes, Yes I can still use him. Did the potion really make him younger?”
Sy answered, “Ya. The magic drink reverses agin’. Normally it take 15 years off er so, but we used one which was suppose ta be less than half-power. As Vondum say, I guess it was mixed just a little hot. On adults it just revitalizes them and makes em appear younger and gives them their youthful strength back, but used on someone too young it actually turns them back into smaller kids. They keep their memories, but somehow the effects reverts em back to a younger kid in the way they act as well as look, this’ll make it easier ta retrain the brat ta be more like a slave. Vondum’s house slave has gone though this 4 times now. If’n you saw him now you wouldn’t probably not recognize him none. We tested the drink on him first, he appear ta be about 8 once again.”
Vondum shook his head, “You know with each use the potion works less well so you should have known it would hit this kid hard.” Vondum chuckled as he shrugged, “At least my boy is back to looking nice and cute!”
Monarch pointed to a small area north of Slome as he continued his briefing, "We continue to meet with heavy resistance from Banderlock’s Hobgoblin forces in several areas. The most difficult to explain is here in this area around Slome. Every single time we send in a force they seem to slip through our fingers and vanish. We now know, thanks to Vondum’s and Kandric’s reports of the Mythling gate, why we were not able to properly secure the deep swamps. In the other areas we have managed to destroy some strongholds, but not all of them. But here around Slome we have made exactly zero progress and where they are based remains a mystery.
“Until we completely secure all the areas between here,” Monarch pointed to a map showing the beginning of the Silver Spine Mountains, “and here.” His pointer moved to the beginning of the Deathland Mountain Range, “We will be hard pressed to send too many forces south to help our Lizardmen armies.”
A round of muttering broke out around the table as several of Monarch’s generals started quiet disagreements over how to best handle the overall picture
Vondum sat and listened, but otherwise ignored the command staff. He knew the decision had already been made by Monarch. He would send down a couple of companies of Illorcs and two full clans of Orcs to assist. They would get there through the Mythling gate opened and operated by Kandric. The real argument was how to best protect the Silver Spine Plateau without the reserves in place to back up units already in the field. Since he would be going through the gate with Kandric, the area above the Silver Spine Mountains and those who lived in the Plateau didn’t really matter to him. Black Rapids would not fall and since it was his only true concern none of this mattered to him in the slightest.
To take his mind off the fact he badly needed an excuse to stay away from Black Rapids for such a long period of time, he looked down at Kandric. He started wondering, not for the first time, if it was a good idea to let the boy sit in on a war council meeting with Monarch. It wasn’t the fact he didn’t trust Kandric, it was more the fact Monarch was so quickly taken by the boy’s charm and intelligence. Vondum knew he had missed something in the original exchange between Kandric and Monarch, which in and of itself worried him some. Yet the bond which had developed between them came not out of friendship, but out of mutual respect.
Respect, Vondum thought it over. Monarch was not one to grant respect easily or quickly. What had really happened and how did it translate into Kandric being offered a chance to see the inner most workings of Monarch’s plans? Granted, the war council was being devoted to details about which Kandric had already found some information on, but still…
Vondum’s thoughts were interrupted by Kandric’s voice, “Sir, may I interject a point here?”
Vondum held his breath for a moment wondering how Monarch would react to a child bringing up a question in the middle of a battle planning session.
Monarch frowned deeply for a moment as several of his assembled Illorc leaders turned to glare at the youngster. Monarch remained silent for a moment as he watched Kandric stare right back at the beings; most of whom were well over twice the boy’s size and easily outweighed him by quadruple. One by one they blinked while Kandric’s stare never wavered.
Monarch’s frown slowly twisted into a smirk. “I see it is my own people who are balking first when staring at Kandric. Maybe we should all take a drink and let the boy say what is on his mind.”
“It’s them eyes,” One of the company commanders stated with contempt, “it’s like they cut right through ya!”
Kandric snorted, “I have spells and a sword for cutting through things. My eyes just look for targets.”
This brought a round of snorts and chuckles from the assembled command staff.
Monarch nodded with a crude sounding snort, “Well worded young Shaman. Since you not only out-stared my people, but also out sparred them with words I give you the floor, make your point.”
Vondum clenched his fists and dug his fingernails into his palms to keep his face neutral. Kandric was treading on dangerous ground. He had stolen the show and now all eyes were squarely on him. Attracting such attention was dangerous for a seasoned adult, let alone for a boy not even into his teens in equivalency years.
Kandric looked at the map again then picked up one of the pointers lying next to the map. “With all due respect, you are going about this in all the wrong ways.” He pointed to Slome and the Swamp Slums, “Let me start here. Over the past few months we have seen our food supplies diminish to almost nothing yet one caravan managed to toss out months of effort on your part.”
The commander for the forces around Slome grunted, “Ya ain’t tellin’ us anything we don’ts already know boy.”
Monarch held up his hand, “Let him finish. I give you time to talk things out, thus I expect you will grant this young man the same courtesy.”
Kandric gave Monarch a slight bow then continued before others could speak up against him. “What about trying something completely new, something which would take more money but use a great deal less manpower?”
“Such as?” Holgab Asked.
“Such as,” Kandric grinned, “buying the food stores of caravans before they reached any of the towns.”
“Yer insane boy! We’d run out a money in no time!” The general for the area east of the swamps complained, “We need the loot just to keep our troops in supplies and money!”
“I understand.” Kandric assured the massive Illorc Swordsman, “but there is a simple law in caravan trading, supply and demand. If there is a great enough demand, there will be someone who figures out a way to get the supplies there or die trying. Eventually some supplies will get in.”
Monarch interrupted, “We expected as much Kandric, but we figured we could keep out enough to put a stranglehold on the region.”
“You still can if you really want to Master Monarch.” Kandric grinned.
Monarch’s eyebrows shot up in a quizzical fashion, “Then please continue, for even I do not see the light at the end of this cavern.”
“The land is still hungry.” Kandric pointed to the four main passes leading up the Silver Spine Mountains to the Plateau, “the Caravan brought hope and will continue up and around making a single trade pass under a Black Rapid’s flag. Now is the time to get your symbol out there.”
“I cannot Kandric.” Monarch sighed, “The land is not ready for an Illorc savior.”
“They do not have to be.” Kandric’s grin turned a little more fiendish.
“Really? How?” Holgab wondered aloud getting several nods as he spoke his thoughts.
“Work from a mysterious side. Do not let others know who the flag belongs to, just fly it as you pull up caravans laden with supplies you buy before the merchants can reach any of the towns. With all the caravans you have attacked and wagons you must have captured you could even stage fake attacks on your own wagons enhancing the belief you are a new force here to save the people from the forces which have been starving them out. Merchants who don’t sell you goods you want to monopolize you can then attack if you so desire, others you can let go, and even use your forces to drive off attacks aimed at them by other forces under your control. The goods you buy can then be sold at a higher price and you make money in what will appear to be an honest way.”
Kandric paused long enough to take a drink of water, “Then, if everything I have heard about this Bandurlok is true, he will have to start attacking your caravans and wagons flying your colors. When this happens you get to expose him as the real threat and then you can step into the light and show who is the one protecting the people of the Silver Spine Plateau.”
Kandric used the pointer again and tapped on Slome, “The only real threat lies here. For Slome is the gateway of one of the four main passes up the Silver Spine Mountains, and it is the only pass you do not control with a Silver Steel hand. Because of this, Bandurlok’s forces can destroy the plan before it can even start.”
This time Vondum spoke up, partially to show he was not going to back Kandric blindly and partially to give the boy a less hostile challenge than some of the others most certainly would. “Kandric, I don’t see the point to your plan. We don’t control the pass up to Slome thanks to the last caravan and the area around Slome is not controlled by us. We need all four passes for your plan to hold any water.”
Vondum’s comments brought a round of nods from all but three beings around the table. It was interesting, Vondum noted, the three heads which didn’t join in belonged to Holgab, Mofto (hand in a splint from Kandric’s earlier cold snap spell) and most importantly Monarch.
Kandric’s eyes glinted with an almost evil cunning, “This is true, but you fail to see my point Vondum. We don’t need to worry about those other areas. Let Bandurlok make strongholds in these other areas away from the passes, it gives him bases to launch the attacks from. All Monarch’s forces have to do is prevent them from getting too deeply established. By pulling some of the forces out of these other areas the reserves can be maintained and moved in to each area when or if Bandurlok manages to get a little too strong for the locals.”
The Illorc commander for the far northern areas next to the Deathland Mountain Range snickered, “If ya expect da local folk to handle Bandurlok’s force you be a fool. We’ll end up movin’ reserves around from one place ta de next just to keep him in check!”
Monarch’s lips twisted up in a sly grin, “Which is exactly what would work to our benefit. Bandurlok keeps up the pressure and we knock over his house of twigs only for him to build another one. The peasants up here see us trying, and succeeding to an extent only to have to come back and do it again, and again, and again…” Monarch’s voice trailed off.
Although most of the command staff failed to see how this looked so appealing to their leader, a few facial expressions slowly changed from a frown to resentful admiration. Mofto, Monarch’s lead Mystic, was first to speak. Although still very angry at Vondum and Kandric for the attack on one of his breeding bases, the man saw the advantages to what the child was suggesting. "This would allow our own forces to get plenty of combat and hone their skills while making us look good to the people up here. The land still stays under a boot of oppression, but the appearances make it look like the boot is not our own. Then, when our Half-Illorc forces are ready, we move in. We’ll then crush most of Bandurlok’s forces while leaving a few pockets so the peasants up here still need us. This frees up all sorts of forces for other tasks including gaining control of the Slome pass and makes money from what appears to be honest trade.
“The very fact a caravan is under the flag of Black Rapids and is moving deeper into the Plateau could be the start to this new plan. It has been hit hard and survived. Now all we have to do let them spread the word about Vondum and Black Rapids moving to help the population. We wanted Black Rapids as the capitol of the new kingdom anyway.”
Vondum nodded, “And with no heir, I could well be handed the seat of power there. My absence from there now may be a tactical error.”
“Nonsense!” Monarch next to bellowed. "Your absence can and will be explained by your quest to eliminate Gambra and your help of the surrounding areas in their great time of need. As a matter of fact, as Captain of Black Rapids military, you could impose a tax on the surrounding countryside. If they wish to keep getting supplies from caravans flying your colors, they will pay. A quarter of these collected funds you could give to Black Rapids coffers, half could go to me so I could fund the buying of the goods we want to control, and the last quarter could go directly to you and Kandric. You would then be paying me, legally, and thus my colors could join Black Rapids on caravans. I see no reason why you have to announce whom your ally is except to say your ally agreed to assist and send forces to the region in exchange for being able to fly a standard on all protected caravans.
Kandric took a deep breath, “I guess there is no longer a reason for me to speak since the rest of my ideas are already out there.”
Vondum pushed his chair back from the table, “I tend to agree with my Wilderness Scout. Master Monarch, what do you think of this plan?”
Monarch slowly nodded, “I hear much wisdom coming from the mouth of this youth. I also see how his mind is working to help his own people. You have found a true leader here Vondum, I just wish the rest of my people could find such henchmen.”
Monarch then turned to Kandric, “Young man, your potential is boundless. Keep true to yourself and your allies and you will go far.”
Monarch stood, “Holgab, get this boy a command medallion. From now on he is part of my forces as well and will be treated as an officer in my military.” He then glared at the rest of the staff as they started to grumble, “If you disagree I suggest you try him out in combat.”
Before anyone in the room could speak the mystic stood. “Don’t even go there.” Mofto warned, “Been there, done that, and lost. And frankly speaking I have no desire for a round two. Any of you who do, might want to consider there are only three higher Echelon spell casters in this tent.”
Holgab grinned, “Along with three others who are the same Echelon, and none of us were able to react as quickly as Kandric did when Master Monarch was attacked. Any of ya want to challenge the boy I’ll bet money, and it damn sure won’t be on y’all.”
Vondum chuckled, “My money will be with the bodyguard here.”
The general for the local forces snorted, “Then ya all best toss yer silver on da table, cause I ain’t lettin’ no brat bein’ able ta tell none a my forces whats they can do!”
Monarch put his head into his hand, “Dylar, don’t be stupid.”
The massive Illorc pulled a war axe, “Shut up Monarch, yer law is we can challenge any officer appointment!”
Vondum nodded, “True. Kandric drop him.”
Kandric felt his eyes go wide as the huge Illorc moved toward him. He couldn’t believe Vondum had basically thrown him to the wolves. The worst part was he didn’t even want to be one of Monarch’s officers. Kandric managed a small glare at Vondum as he pulled his sword from over his shoulder."
Monarch’s eyebrows shot up, “Boy, yer fighting a Swordsman, you ain’t got much of a chance weapon to weapon.”
“If he is a properly trained Swordsman, he will toss my first few spells.” Kandric replied as he backed out of the tent, “So even if I do this by spells, I will need to be able to defend.”
Monarch stood as he watched the boy back out of the tent. As soon as Dylar exited, he turned to Vondum, “You don’t seem too concerned.”
“He wants to run with the big boys,” Vondum grumbled as he followed the rest out to the open area beyond, “so I figured he needs to learn what life is like on the top.”
“You are risking his life when you could stop this.”
“I am and I could,” Vondum agreed, “but he has made his own way thus far and I don’t help my scouts unless they are badly outnumbered or out manned. Kandric ain’t either.”
Elsewhere in the tent hasty bets were being taken. Holgab offered double odds on Kandric and found himself having to get help from Mofto to cover those who were betting against the lad.
Kandric dodged the first swing as he moved out deeper into the snow away from the tents. “You swing like a Swordsman trainee!”
Dylar bellowed in anger as he charged. His swing went way wild as the nimble boy dodged well out of his reach. As he spun to face the boy he barely managed to block a swing aimed at his non-weapon hand. “Boy, yer blood is goin’ ta flow like water!”
Kandric smacked the Illorc’s next attack downward getting his left hand scratched by the spiked tip on the axe. This gave him an opening though and he took it. His blade came up and hit the general in his underarm in the open area between the plates of armor. Blood oozed out of the wound as he backed off shaking his hand.
“Dylar, call it now. First blood has been drawn on both sides!” Monarch shouted.
“Never! I will not let his deeper wound of me make him the winner!”
Kandric used the momentary distraction to call on help. Enough was enough and his hand hurt a great deal more than he wanted to admit. He spoke softly, “Slow him by just a step so I can cast. It need not be more than a step or two.”
A gust of wind seemed to whip around the command tent and slam into the Illorc general. The wicked gust knocked him back a full step while pushing Kandric, much more gently, away from the axe-wielding beast. Kandric’s eyes hardened as he spoke, “General, you should know one thing about good spell casters.”
The general braced for a spell and switched his axe to his off hand do to the wound in his armpit of his weapon hand as he replied, “What?”
Kandric snorted, “A good caster knows how to bypass magic defiance.” With those words Kandric twirled his hands and pointed at the snow under the beast’s feet. A blast of flame shot out of his hands followed a split second later by his amazingly fast cold snap. The results, not directed at the Illorc, but instead at the snow under him eliminated any chance of magic defiance defeating the dual assault.
The general, standing firm found the combination of spells melted the snow and reformed it into ice locking his feet into a small but very effective block of ice. As he struggled to pull free he watched in helpless fascination as the boy moved around behind him. He tried to twist to block the sword swing, but his attempt only caused the youngster to adjust his attack.
Holgab found himself ignoring the incredible spell casting display as his eyes took in a Swordmanship display worthy of being taught in schools throughout the land. So impressed at the boy’s sword skills was Holgab he actually found himself wanting to applaud as the last ditch defense was brushed aside by a counter parry which turned into an offensive thrust straight into the back of Monarch’s general. More than a few of the other command staff around Holgab gasped as they realized the sword thrust had gone clear through the thick plates of armor and out the front.
Kandric placed his foot on the dying Illorc and used the extra leverage to pull his Frozen Flame blade loose. With a nasty glare he twisted the weapon as he removed it. Shaking with a combination of anger and fear he glared at the astonished and stunned officers. “Who is next!”
Monarch shook his head, “My guess, my impressive sword toting Shaman, would be no one.”
Kandric wiped the blood off on the tunic of the general. Once satisfied the blade was indeed clean he expertly sheathed it in a single move.
“Umm, Monarch?” Holgab managed to speak.
“Our battles aren’t supposed to be to the death.”
“Yea,” Monarch agreed, “Maybe Dylar should have explained our rules to the lad before pulling a weapon on him.”
“Do we call a Healthman or Channeler?”
Mofto moved up to the fallen general, “Such actions will be of no help. The boy’s blade effectively gutted him.”
Kandric muttered a curse as he cast a healing spell on his hand, “I have not even agreed to become one of your officers. After this, I am not so sure I want to be one.”
“I will leave the decision to you.” Monarch stated with a degree of aggravation. “All I really want is your guarantee you will be ready to put my forces through the gate in one week’s time.”
“I will be ready, just make sure your armies are there.” He paused long enough to shoot an arctic cold glare over Monarch’s entire command staff, “And make sure the leaders you send are better than this moron!” He kicked the dead body and spit into the snow.
Holgab pulled a medallion off the fallen Illorc and tossed Kandric the officer’s pendant. “Take it kid you earned it!”
Kandric slid the Elvin Silver Steel butterfly with an inlayed star sapphire into his pouch. “I will consider if I want to wear it, but for now I want to get back the Slums to see my family before I look into some passages under Slome.” Kandric’s voice dripped of disgust and spite as he turned his back and walked away from the group.
Vondum held back a chuckle as he looked at Monarch red face, “Don’t worry. Once his anger subsides he will wear the pendant.”
Monarch unclenched his fists, “He has spell and weapon skills the likes of which are the making of legends.”
“Yea, tell me about it. The first day I met him he dropped more Hobgoblins single handedly than I did. His abilities have saved my command base two times and he would have stopped the Gnolls attack on the caravan without me. He is beyond good.”
Monarch nodded as he watched the pair leave. Once he was sure Kandric and Vondum were out of earshot he growled a shout. “Holgab!”
“Assign an elite team equal in abilities to the one protecting Vondum. I want them to actively sniff out and stop any plots to assassinate Kandric. I sense greatness and if I do, so will Bandurlok. It is only a matter of time.”
“Agreed, but this is the first I have ever heard of this child. How can this be?”
“I don’t think the guilds have a clue someone this young is powerful enough to best an Expert Echelon Swordsman with no more effort than a trained being would smack around a mundane Kobald.”
Holgab swallowed, "His Swordmanship was outstanding, I have never seen such grace and speed outside of a Swordsman or a Warrior Adept. What do we do about replacing Dylar?
Monarch sighed “Give his command to his Captain. Kandric has a point, after all. He cartainly can’t do any worse of a command job.” He paused as he shook his head, “Oh, speaking of this area, give the command more men. Kandric’s plan will only work if we gain control of this area quickly.”
Holgab suddenly grinned and half joked, “Or we could just tell Kandric to go after them and see what happens.”
Monarch’s eyes glinted, “An excellent idea! Offer him a huge reward. If he takes up the quest we will rope him into being part of the command.”
Holgab nodded understanding, but frowned. “What would be a good reward?”
“The only thing I have seen, which motivates him, is helping his precious Swamp Slums. I suggest we offer to help his slums. It would make a good base for protection of caravans and give the people there an income base. If he agrees, we will build a fortress, dig proper wells and offer jobs to the people who live there. If he helps root out the problem, then he will get ownership of the fortress and thus gain trade profits from it.”
“You are basically offering to thrust him into being a merchant prince!”
“Yes, and we would still win all the way around.”
Monarch’s smirk was one of the most fiendish Holgab had ever seen. “I’ll make the offer later today. Let him calm down first.”
“Agreed. In the meantime set things in motion to transform those deplorable Swamp Slums into our newest fist. This fort will be the first in a campaign to get my colors out without revealing who is behind them.”
Aster heard the alert from one of the night watchman just as he snuggled into Pocet’s side after an evening of lovemaking. His body, still tired from a long and passionate series of sexual acts, seemed to cry out in anguish. The last thing he wanted was to jump out of bed. Instead he really wanted to continue to rub Pocet’s manhood and kiss the man’s chest.
Pocet’s muttering told Aster he too didn’t want this moment to be interrupted, but he sighed and grabbed his sword. “Let’s get into some armor and head topside. With any luck we will be able to undress each other again and start all over again!”
Aster rolled his eyes as he grinned, “One thing about being a kid, I need more sleep than you!”
Another shout sounded from on deck.
Aster pulled on his undershirt and turned to help Pocet buckle his armor on, “Sounds serious, wonder what is going on?”
Pocet held up his arms so Aster could properly secure his armor, “Agreed. Pontarious’ people are too good to shout out false alarms.”
Aster completed the job and turned so Pocet could help him with his own armor. As the last parts were secured he heard the sound of metal on metal, “Shade go topside and help! We have combat on the ship!”
Pocet pulled out his sword, “Yea, which most likely means river pirates. I’ll go topside, you check below decks to make sure everything is secure.”
Aster growled as he watched Pocet run toward the stairs. He grabbed his axe and made his way down the passage looking for intruders who may have made it below decks, “Why does everyone want to protect me all the time?”
Aster made a quick sweep on the crew deck then made his way down to the cargo holds. As he entered the far aft hold he saw a slender figure slide down a rope with a dagger clenched in its teeth. He grinned as he spoke, “I have always heard stories of pirates with blades in their teeth, but I never actually thought it happened.”
The figure froze then seemed to relax as it saw who was speaking, “Boy, ya ain’t so smart holdin’ no axe against a trained bein’”
Aster shrugged as he advanced on the Halfling female, “You would be far better off climbing back up your rope and forgetting this little raid.”
The woman chuckled, “Ya be tryin’ ta tell me I needs to be worried over this tub after we took a whole village? Yer boat can’t even move none, we got the toll chain still up!”
Aster shook his head in disgust, “Maybe killing you won’t make me feel bad after all.”
The woman grabbed her dagger from her mouth and leapt at Aster. Aster didn’t even blink. He made one step to the side and buried his Axe all the way into the woman’s chest. Planting his foot on her lifeless body he withdrew the blade and noticed the dagger shimmered lightly. Kneeling he examined blade. “One standard, yet magical, Dagger of Attack.” He muttered as he grabbed the woman’s sheath off her belt and placed the weapon in it.
He glanced around then decided to take the rope up top to see what he could do to really help.
Getting on the deck he found a real mess. There were no less than twenty enemy on the barge and they were rapidly gaining control of it. Looking back he could see they had no chance of getting below because the men and women of the of the Thunder Rapids had drawn a line the robbers couldn’t hope to get past, holding the middle of the line was none other than Pontarious himself. Protection of the family of the crew was clearly their first goal.
Aster selected another woman, this time a Human, and moved in. A single backhand with his Axe sent the hapless pirate spinning over the side of the ship. Suddenly a man’s hand started to glow and he extended his fingers at Aster.
Before he could react, Sardan swooped in front of the imminent attack. Aster helplessly watched a spiral of flame shot out toward his friend, only the spell never hit its mark.
Sardan spun his blade at the magical flames and much to the amazement of everyone watching the spell impacted the blade and stopped. It just spun; a large ball of fire spinning in the middle of the air in front of Sardan like someone had grabbed it out of the air and held it in place. Sardan’s eyes narrowed, “Now it is my turn to play with your magic!” rearing back his sword he smacked the ball of flame, sending it zipping across the deck striking a pirate getting ready to finish off one of the Thunder Rapids’ crew. The flame exploded on impact and sent the burning pirate over the edge.
Pocet had actually closed his eyes as he saw the spell about to be unleashed. He knew the target had been Aster, so he didn’t actually see what Sardan had done to stop the spell, but he did see how the Hawkling had batted it. He moved in a straight line toward the caster before the man got another chance to hit either Aster or Sardan with a spell.
Another pirate intercepted Pocet, but Pocet ignored the Dwarf, instead he thrust his sword past the dwarf and into the back of the caster. The Dwarf bellowed in anger and sliced Pocet’s leg with a dagger.
Aster saw this and screamed in rage. His axe came up and took off the arm of a Halforc swinging a club at Sardan. His cry was instantly heard and heeded by both Shade and Frost. Instinctively, both animals knew what Aster was upset about and lunged at the Dwarf. Shade’s claws dug into the Dwarf’s side while its jaws crushed the Dwarf’s shoulder. Frost was equally viscous. Its talons ripped into the Dwarf’s gut while its beak went strait into an eye socket.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the deck, Conner plunged his hand into another spell caster’s throat and literally ripped it out while Sagell’s Fairy Dragon’s claws ripped right through the backbone of a Halfling trying to sneak up on Conner.
Morale of the pirates collapsed as their best were eliminated in a matter of seconds. They tried to flee, but the crew of the Thunder Rapids would have none of it. Those who didn’t surrender were killed.
Glaster entered the jail and saw Klandon and Mylan talking in one of the small cage-like cells. He looked over at the boys’ guards, “They seem rather content, any problems?”
The Dwarf assigned to Klandon shook his head, “Nothing other than both of them being a little mouthy to the guards about how unfair it was to be locked up when the kids who attacked Mylan to begin with weren’t.”
Glaster snorted, “I see nothing wrong with those actions at all. They deserve to be allowed to be a little mouthy over this injustice. Rest assured the Magistrate of this two bit town will be in for the surprise of his life when my dispatch to the king gets to him. The worst part is I even tried to talk to him. He wouldn’t budge, saying our boys had inflicted serious injury to kids in his town and he wouldn’t stand for such deeds to go unpunished. They are to remain here until dark. They then have to spend tomorrow here as well. At least they do not have to spend the night here.”
Glaster glanced over to the cage again, “They sure seem to be getting along all of the sudden.”
The Dwarf nodded, “Like best of friends. Klandon has even handed over information on what he found out when he went down to the refugee village after he made it through the combat course. It was a gold mine of information and he is basically giving it away. I have no clue what changed, but according to the two who were with Klandon at the village they thought he was crying a couple of times but he hid it well enough to prevent them from knowing for sure.”
Pocet propped himself up on his elbow and watched Aster bundle the furs around himself and leave the makeshift smith shop to clean up down by the river. The fight on the barge along with the barge striking the toll chain left the Thunder Rapids short on healthy crew and in need of repairs. The Pirates had taken out the small village and the kingdom’s river tax collecting fort so Pontarious ordered his people to secure the area and take over the buildings for themselves. This at least provided somewhat comfortable lodging and repair facilities while the Thunder Rapids was being worked on.
Pocet smiled as he lay on the bed despite the recent run of bandit trouble. His mind was not on the negative events of the last few weeks; instead he had to ponder on his recent good fortune. True, his employer, the man who hired Pocet to protect him, had gotten killed. Besides this failure, however, things had gone very well. He was now a member of the Junsac Barony Watch. This was a dream of his since his childhood come true. He was part of a team, an elite team which stood behind each other and the kingdom under King Wyhrem’s control. This singular honor should have been the pinnacle of his life, but then there was Aster.
He got out of the padded cot and stretched, reaching up towards the high ceiling. He rubbed the bandage on his leg lightly while he shifted weight from the injured leg to the other. The wound wasn’t serious, not more than a flesh wound. Aster had done a marvelous job cleaning and dressing it, but now Pocet needed to really work the muscle. He needed to exercise it to keep the muscles from knotting up or worse yet betray him when he needed his combat skills the most. He began a slow dance around the room, stretching various muscles, flexing others. His motions brought him to the other side of the room, where he and Aster kept their gear. He picked up his sword and scabbard and began wrapping the belt around the hilt.
After working for several minutes, he had finished. The scabbard was firmly affixed to the hilt of the sword, effectively doubling the weight of the weapon. Pocet then walked to the middle of the room swinging the sword in great arcs. He brought his weapon to the standard ready position and held it for several seconds, eyes closed. He then began a new dance, a slow motion battle with invisible foes. Slashes, parries, blocks, turns, stabs were all done at an agonizingly slow speed. As Pocet worked his body, running through all the styles he had mastered, and those he was still learning. He felt his leg wound stretching and even burning slightly. It felt good, like he could actually feel it healing.
So intent was Pocet in his practice, he hadn’t even noticed his observer entering the building. At first Sardan stood outside the door watching Pocet twist and turn, pirouette and pivot, lunging and fighting non-existent enemies. Satisfied by what he was witnessing, Sardan at last entered the building noting the singe bed had certainly been occupied by two the previous night.
Pocet jumped and spun when Sardan cleared his throat, coming to a near perfect defensive stance. He relaxed quickly when he saw who it was, then grew red when he suddenly realized he hadn’t gotten dressed for his workout. Dashing to the bedside for his trousers Pocet nearly fell over some of Aster’s clothing, making Sardan chuckle in amusement. It was an odd sound, Pocet thought as he pulled up his pants and tied the rope. Easily recognizable as laughter, but a sort of honking chirp.
“You humans and your strange modesties. I do not know if I’ll ever understand it.”
Pocet looked sideways and smirked, “An odd statement coming from someone who wears such fine clothing. What can I do for you, sir?”
“I came to speak to you, but I got caught up in watching you. Should you be training with your injury?”
“The injury isn’t serious enough to do more than remind me to dodge a little quicker the next time. Besides, I need to keep the blood flowing to the muscles to keep them from cramping. Plus, I enjoy it.”
“Then please, continue. As a matter of fact I would like to join you.” Sardan drew his falchion and assumed a ready stance as Pocet moved beside him. Pocet continued as if he hadn’t stopped. Sardan moved along with him, matching move for move, moving at the same snail’s pace. Sardan kept glancing over at Pocet, though. “I notice you still have the scabbard on your sword. Are you afraid you’ll cut yourself?”
Pocet smiled at the teasing. “My teacher taught me this rather odd trick. It nearly doubles the weight and makes workouts more effective. It also makes the sword itself feel lighter in battle.” Pocet watched Sardan match his every move as he ran through the various styles. “What did you want to speak to me about?”
“I watched you during the battle. I was quite impressed. You are certainly very skilled.”
Pocet stopped cold and stared at the Hawkling. “Me, sir? You’re impressed with me? I am amazed with you. How did you deflect the magic? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Few have. Fewer still can do it. There are things about being a swordsman few know about. Secrets, if you must call them. Most young swordsmen do not live long enough to learn them. Tell me, quickly, how would you fight me?”
Pocet jerked, startled at the sudden question. “Well, sir, your weapon is a falchion. Your chosen blade is a very heavy, powerful weapon. But it is a longer range weapon, not good for up close fighting. So I would try to get inside the reach of your sword. A falchion is also too powerful to block with a longsword. So once again I would adjust my normal fighting. I would deflect or dodge your swings instead of trying to block them. Lastly I would try to injure one of your wings, so you couldn’t maneuver as well, so I could stay inside.”
“Excellent. You can size up an opponent quickly, determining his strengths and weaknesses in a few seconds.” Sardan strode over and picked up Aster’s axe. He brought it over and handed it to Pocet. “Tell me what you can about this weapon.”
Pocet took the axe and turned it over in his hands. “It is an amazing weapon. It is considerably lighter than it appears. The blade has a strange looking angle, curving down and in, almost to the shaft. The shaft is also curved, like a scythe.”
“What do your observations tell you?”
“By sliding the stroke, with the handle leading the blade, you can increase the cutting power. Chopping and slicing at the same time. Its design is very deadly. With good skill it also makes the axe more effective in close. The lighter weight is for a wielder with less strength. Usually dwarves and the larger races use axes, but this one is used by an elf. Yet it is perfectly balanced and light enough for a young elf to use.”
“Impressive. You have mastered how to appraise not only a weapon, but the wielder by the weapon.”
Pocet blushed slightly. “Well, I sort of cheated. I’ve been studying this axe for some time. I have also watched Aster in battle. Which, I believe, makes it even more impressive.”
“Forethought is not cheating. Instead you are taking advantage of advance knowledge. Listen, there are many things unknown about swordsmen, and I believe it is time for you to learn them. Most people in this world believe we swordsmen are the weakest of all those blessed by power. We are the most numerous, but most feel since we have no flashy power, we are mere fodder. This is not true. Those wielders of magic who know the true potential of Swordsmen have reason to fear them.”
“I don’t understand, why should magic users fear us? We cannot use magic, nor can we fight it.”
Sardan shook his head. “Use magic, not really. Well this is not completely true, for we do have the ability to damage creatures with a mundane weapon which can normally only be hit with magic. However, fighting magic, yes, we can most certainly fight magic! No matter the guild, every being blessed by magic has a certain amount of magic defiance. The ability to resist magical attacks. Of all the guilds, swordsmen have the strongest resistance to magic. When we reach higher echelons, we gain the ability to manipulate the magic defiance, even to make our weapon part of it. As you saw me do earlier today.”
Pocet stood shocked. “Why was I never told this? My teacher was an Expert, certainly he would have known this.”
“Most certainly. However, although all Swordsmen have the ability, it is not strong enough until they reach high Secondary or Teaching echelons. A young swordsman armed with this knowledge could become reckless, engaging a foe far more powerful than he should ever attempt to engage. Thus, before he is taught this, he must first master other aspects of being a Swordsman. He must first have learned to be cautious, to size up an opponent and gauge the threat. He must prove he can survive and learn. It is better for the young beginner to believe what people say about us. If he believes he is little more than fodder on the battlefield, he will live longer and be smarter.” Sardan chuckled, “There are a few teachers who train their students in this art, but they tend to have fewer students make it to the higher Echelons.”
Pocet sat down on his bunk, thinking. It made sense, in a way. Nature prefers to balance. Mages and sorcerers were fantastically powerful, rare as they were. It made sense there would be something opposite and equally strong or at least something to balance the scales of the Fates. He looked up at Sardan. “Why tell me this? Why you, why now?”
Sardan walked over and sat next to him. “As I said, I watched you, and you impressed me. I saw you were ready to learn the truth. And I am ready to take an apprentice.”
“But you have several apprentices already. The lad you brought with you, Quavis.”
“No, not a student, an apprentice. Another part of being a swordsman. An advanced swordsman can take an apprentice, to teach him the advanced aspects of our guild. A swordsman is expected to take at least one apprentice in his life. Usually after he achieves Expert, certainly by Master. The apprentice must be Teaching Echelon, or very nearly. I’ve never taken one, but I suppose it is time. I am asking you to be my apprentice, when this mission is over.”
Pocet worked hard to keep the shock from his face. “What…would I have to do?”
“Be my traveling companion. To the world, you would be an assistant, helping me with my students. However, in private I will teach you all I know, every secret which was ever taught to me, everything I’ve ever learned. You would be my constant companion. The leadership of the Watch would grant special dispensation to us, and you would gain status in the Watch as my apprentice.”
Pocet was dumbstruck. This was truly an opportunity of a lifetime. To be taken under the wing, so to speak, of a senior Watch member, and to be taught the things he’d seen Sardan do. The chance to advance rapidly within the Watch. It was all so tempting. But…“But it’d mean I’d have to leave Aster.”
“You feel strongly for him?”
“Yes, of course I do. He is incredible, and a little intimidating.”
“I don’t understand, why would Aster intimidate you? It is obvious he enjoys your company.”
“Well, first there’s his animals. Those critters are scary. His wolf, Shade, the thing just isn’t natural. I’m not jealous, or really scared of them, they just make me a little nervous.”
“To have any other reaction would worry me.” Sardan winked, “I have known Aster and his pets for several years, and I still find Shade a little…disconcerting.”
“And then there’s Aster. Do you have any idea how strong he really is? He’s almost half my size, but nearly as strong. Beyond this, however, are his battle skills. I’m Human, we advance far faster than Elves. Yet I’ve been adventuring as long as Aster and he’s already Teaching echelon. Not to mention the fact he’s the best Healthman I’ve ever run across.” Pocet stopped, “Don’t get me wrong here, his Healthman skills are very much appreciated, but they are still a sight to behold.” Pocet patted the bandage on his thigh. “Then there is the Metalworker side…”
Pocet got up and went to Aster’s axe again. “Take a closer look at it, sir. Tell me what you notice.”
Sardan hefted the weapon and looked closely all along its length. “I must admit, I have never gotten this close a look at Aster’s creation. I…I believe I see what you mean. From a distance, the blade looks like Elvin Silver Steel. But it is not.”
“You are quite correct, sir. It isn’t Dwarven Blue Steel, either. It’s Eldwar Steel. A perfect blending of Silver Steel and Blue Steel. Lightweight, super strong, the rarest of super alloys. I had a friend who was a metalworker, he told me about this stuff. It’s nearly mythical. It takes about 6 months to make, and it is so difficult to make even those who know how to make it don’t like to waste the effort when over 80 percent of the time it fails to hold its form and separates back into its two different metals. There are only seven or eight metalworkers in the world who know how to produce it, and none less than Master Echelon. Yet, Aster has told me of his time with the lizard men after they gave him the ax. They took him to the being who made the axe because it was not properly sized for him. Aster learned to not only remake this axe into something more suitable for himself, he also learned how to make the raw metal. The price for this Eldwar Steel weapon could buy an island.”
Pocet paused, then pointed back to the axe, “There is another thing about the axe, it is perfectly balanced. Not just for an elf, but for Aster specifically. It is perfectly made for his height, strength, arm length, everything. The weapon you are holding would not be as deadly in the hands of anyone but Aster. He could have the richest in all the lands hiring him to make their weapons; he could be stupidly wealthy. He has everything going for him, but he likes me.”
“Above all else it is this single fact which intimidates me the most. As incredible as Aster is, and he wants to be with me. Me!”
Pocet pointed over to the forge, “Take a look, Sardan, just take a peek inside the forge.”
Sardan stood up and put the axe back where it had come from. He moved over to the forge and looked inside to see dull glowing embers and the beginnings of a longsword being melded out of an Elvin Silver Steel Short Sword and a Dwarven Blue Steel Scimitar. There were pans on either side collecting some of the runoff from the two weapons as Aster worked to carefully meld them into one. “For you, I assume?”
Pocet nodded. “Yes. Both blades were lightly magic. Aster captured them when our caravan was attacked. He is destroying two extremely valuable weapons and attempting to create one supreme weapon for me! From the first moment he had free after their capture he has been working on this. He wants me to have the best, and I don’t see what I have done to deserve it.”
Pocet heard him give his odd chirping, honking laugh again. “I’ll never understand the relationships of humanoids. I gave up trying a long time ago; it hurt my head. You are not as plain as you believe yourself to be. While it is clear Aster enjoys your company, why question it?” Sardan put his hand on Pocet’s shoulder. “If you agree to be my apprentice, you may well have to leave Aster, for we will travel far and wide. There is no guarantee Aster will stay as part of my watch team. It may be years before you see him again. You must decide. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Think about it. I will not require an answer until this mission is finished. Just think about my offer.”
With those words, Sardan left the room, leaving Pocet with a mind far fuller than it had been in a long time. He laid back on the cot with his sword on his chest. He looked over and saw Shade walk through the wall! The creature had blood around its muzzle and fore quarters, obviously from whatever animal it had just eaten. Pocet watched it pad over near the portable forge, plop down and begin licking the blood from itself.
Pocet turned back, and for the first time in his life, pondered hard on his life.
Meanwhile, Sardan moved off to think about what he had just heard and seen. Aster was more than just gifted. Master Lannet had warned him not to underestimate the boy when he first was approached about allowing a child to work with his team for a mission. At the time Sardan had scoffed at the old Dwarf. His scoffing had long since ceased, yet the more he found out about the boy the more he started to agree with Pocet. There was something intimidating about the boy.
Night fell as Glaster watched Prince Klandon sleep. The day’s adventure and time in the jail had taken much out of the child, but the poor child couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. This was the third nightmare the boy had endured this night alone. He could tell by the thrashing on the bed and the clenched fists alone, yet he did not need those signs. The boy’s voice told of his confusion, his fears, and his sadness came out in words muttered softly while fighting the demons only the boy’s mind could see and hear.
Glaster used his shaman powers to enter the sprit world and look at the boy from within them. His careful observations told him nothing was attacking the boy. Glaster almost wished he had found an evil Dream Weaver attacking the boy from the sprit world, at least then he could do something to help. As it was he could do nothing but watch and listen hoping the rambled mumblings would reveal something about what was wrong within the boy.
Exiting the spirit world again Glaster continued to observe Klandon while he went to work on the spell pages with the edges coated with blood captured from the Dark Mage. Spell pages, edges coated with blood, was a dead giveaway to spells derived from darkness and given power by the taking of life. Each one of the pages was bonded to someone or something and each time the spell was used more of the being died until all the life force was used up. Then the unfortunate being fell over dead. Glaster shook his head as he cast a Destroy Magic spell on the first page and watched it burst into a bright red flame. Beings consumed by dark magic never really died, they just became playthings for a demon their exhausted life energies drawing in a demon like a dog is drawn to the smells of a hunk of meat cooking over a fire. The being becomes nothing more then a permanent slave to the demon who claimed it unable to ever die, only suffer. The red flame told him the being this spell had been given power by had been one of those unfortunate ones. Now, at least, this being could die and its eternal torment would end.
Glaster Cast another Destroy Magic and watched the paper turn black and crumble. This time he smiled, the being linked to this page had not yet died and was now free to live out the rest of his or her life without losing life force with every casting of the spell. Glaster sighed; he wanted to destroy all the pages, but to do so would use up too much Force, the last four pages would have to be destroyed over the next two days.
Glaster’s attention was once again redirected to Klandon as the boy entered a new phase of a nightmare, his voice was hard to make out, but as Glaster knelt and got closer the words could be made out.
Kandon’s voice shook in terror, “No more, me can’t cast no more. There be nothin’ left.” There was a pause then he once again started mumbling, “I know he be more better, but I can’t cast no more.” Klandon curled up into a ball on the bed and shook his voice begging for a beating to stop then finally in between whimpers Klandon gasped out, “OK, one more… one more… one more.” A smoke puff erupted from Klandon’s sleeping hand, sweat beaded on the young boy’s forehead and he slipped into a true unconscious state.
Glaster put his hand on the boy’s forehead. The boy was hot, and his breathing ragged. “Forced casting.” Glaster wiped the sweat off the boy’s head as he shook his head, “Casting beyond what a body can handle. It will improve or kill a person. Why force a boy of such a young age? Who was or is better than him and for what reason?” Glaster asked himself as he reviewed what he had found out about the young prince up to this point.
Suddenly Klandon jerked and his voice was easier to hear, “I don’t like it here. I want my old home back!” the boy thrashed in bed again as he once again spoke, “I don’t care about no war, I wanna go home, they’re just pirates!” Klandon’s back arched as he let out a few shrieks. "“I’m sorry. I’ll do what ya wants!” finally the newest nightmare seemed to end as the boy slumped down into a more fitful sleep.
Glaster rubbed his chin for several seconds before realizing he needed proof of the nightmares being true before he could ever hope to get down to the bottom of any of this. Glaster stood and cast a very powerful nap spell before he yanked off the blankets then stripped the boy. Even as Glaster started looking for any signs of scars, he couldn’t help but take in the beauty of the now naked boy. Glaster gritted his teeth as he started the inspection of the young Prince, “I need to find a boy for a night or two before I decide one or more of the boys in the caravan can serve me in more intimate ways.”
Turning his mind away from lust he focused on the task at hand. Even though he concentrated on looking over the body for marks he couldn’t help taking a few moment to caress the smooth skin of Klandon’s butt and groin. As his hand lingered on Klandon’s boyhood his eyes caught sight of two thin strips on Klandon’s back. Closer examination revealed a Healthman had removed scar tissue but had not managed to eradicate all of the prior damage.
Glaster chewed on his lower lip, “So the nightmare with the arching back was real, he was whipped! There is no way, even while on the other ship, you could have been subjected to such beatings without your father’s knowledge. This leaves only two options…”
Glaster moved over to a table and grabbed a glass of wine, taking a sip he continued his musings aloud, “One, your father has lied to me and you were subjected to punishments far beyond the use of a whipping boy, which is extremely unlikely. Or two you are not Klandon, but a duplicate, and as improbable as this sounds it is the only explanation for the events leading up to King Wyhrem’s call for assistance.”
Glaster’s frown deepened as he grabbed the boy’s ankle and looked for the runes he had placed on Klandon shortly after the boy’s birth. What he saw made his blood run cold. The runes were in the wrong order. His mind drifted back to the day he had come in to make the protection runes on Wyhrem’s family. Wyhrem had been first, then his wife, then Klandon, then the already ailing Zoldon. Zoldon’s breathing had been ragged and he was not expected to make it though the night. Because of this Glaster had put the first rune to be a protection against diseases because he figured there was a chance, even a slim chance, the boy had a sickness which could be healed. The other three all got a protection against poison first, he was sure of it.
Looking at the runes once again he clearly saw the protection against diseases first. This was Zoldon, Wyhrem’s second born and until this moment presumed dead son. He had even attended they infant’s royal funeral! As his mind screamed for some sort of explanation, he saw two other very small runes below the standard set he had placed on the boy.
Closer examination of the two marks further enraged him. One was a rune for implanting false memories, the other was one to make someone forget. Energies ripped through his hands as he summoned a spell, gathering all his energies into two fingers he touched the two tiny runes and destroyed them utterly. As he sat there looking at Zoldon he realized the runes meant the poor child’s memories had been messed with so many times it would be impossible to straighten them back out.
The real mystery and overriding concern focused on another child. For if this was Zoldon, and certainly it was. Where was the King’s Heir? Where was Klandon?
Once again, my heart-felt thanks goes out to Ragtopman for his help in drafting up a couple of sections in this chapter.
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