Captain Locke stared at the enchantress Oyael with frustration. He didn't
like mages; nobody did. But
now that one was actually needed, her power had proved useless. He had
expected that once they had
arrived here that Oyael would reveal Denom for what he truly was; a dark
spirit, an evil doppleganger, or
a pawn of wicked magic. But once they had been brought to Duke Hindsight
rather than calling Denom
out and ending this bizarre affair immediately, Oyael had instead called
for the Lady Rowena. Duke
Dred's daughter obediently answered the summons and was questioned, alone,
behind the doors of the
private chamber. Only after this did she call for Denom.
Denom proved to be both less than forthcoming and more than just a sinister liar practicing a macabre charade. But regardless of his performance Locke had assumed that Oyael's magic would expose him for what he truly was. Apparently it had not.
Oyael and Duke Hindsight then interviewed everyone else in the party. Each man was taken into the private chamber separately and questioned, like Lady Rowena, alone. First went his fellow members of the Guard D'Honaire, followed by the merchant man Pall, and then the Chanticleer, and finally himself. He did not think that they would discover anything he had not already learned himself. He knew that their only hope of learning the truth lay in Oyael's mastery of magic. But apparently her mastery was not much to brag about. She had learned nothing, or if she had she was keeping it to herself. The damn witch.
"You will take Denom to Duke Dred, Captain Locke," Duke Hindsight stated. "Those are your orders."
"But that's what he wants," cried Locke. "Whatever trick he is up to will be played upon my Duke, and I cannot allow that."
"You have your orders," repeated Hindsight. "Obey them." And with that Locke was dismissed.
Not far from the Duke's palace, there is found a tavern of some repute and it bears the name the High Brow. The guards of the palace and even the high men and the lords are known to frequent it often. The food is fine, the service exceptional and the accommodations tastefully opulent. Entertainment is to be had there most hours of the day; jugglers, poets, fire breathers, musicians of almost every stripe. As Pall lifted his mug of dark beer to his lips, laughter exploded in the room around him. Up on the stage set near the bar the Chanticleer had just finished his third encore. Only now did it seem that he was prepared to actually step down from the stage, even though the audience was still clamoring for more. With a flamboyant bow and a swirl of his cloak the Chanticleer thanked them all for their kind attention and their even kinder generosity. And indeed his purse was much heavier leaving the stage then when he had first set foot upon it.
Sitting down next to Pall the Chanticleer ordered a brandy. Turning to the merchant he smiled contentedly. "This is why I do what I do," he said with a gladness in his voice. "The adoration of the public; the cheers of my fellow travelers on the path we call Life."
Pall chuckled. "They love you, I don't deny. I dare say that you could now end your travels and settle down here. And would that not be a welcome respite for your old and aching legs?"
The Chanticleer barked a laugh. "Old!? And how old do you think I am? No! Don't answer that!" He then downed half his brandy and said, "No my friend. I am a chanticleer, a storyteller, a storyweaver. The day I stop traveling in search of new stories is the day I get measured for a hole in the ground. And today of all days I can't very well just hang up my hat and unpack my bags, not with the greatest story of the last eighty years within my reach."
Pall's face suddenly soured. "You mean Denom, don't you."
The Chanticleer nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, Denom! If what he says is true, then by the gods what a story I have stumbled into. The story of a dragon slayer is rare enough, but a dragon slayer who has returned from the dead. Now that is a tale worthy of an epic ode, one composed by a master. And I intend to take that honor for myself."
Pall shook his head grimly. "But if it isn't true? If he isn't who he says he is? Follow him and you may lose your life."
The guests' rooms in Duke Hindsight's palace are found on the second floor. And that was where Fred and Rowena could be found as Pall and the Chanticleer shared each other's company in the tavern. But Fred and Rowena were not allowed to share comfort with each other. Guards had been posted outside of Fred's room to make sure that he did not leave it. Guards had been posted outside of Rowena's room to make sure that she did not try to enter Fred's. It was clear that she believed he was her dead brother, but no one else believed that. And if the man named Denom had enscorcled her mind it would be best that the two be kept apart until they reached Suffex.
Fred looked out of his window at the dark grey sky. Evening was coming on and the autumn air was cold and wet. The guards who patrolled the outer walls of the palace and the city below wore thick sheepskins beneath their armor and as the days rolled on toward Winter's Night they would find it more and more difficult to stave off the cold that seeped into their bones. Fred had spent enough hours himself on patrol and knew how miserable it could get. But here in this warm room, brightly lit, he felt more miserable than he had ever in his life.
He had expected that once he reached Allaria he would be welcomed with open arms. He had been wrong. But at least they were now going to take him to his father. Surely his father would recognize his own son. And then all would be put to rights and Fred could let go of the terrible burden on his mind, the burden that weighed his soul.
He had seen so much, but what was it that he had seen? Dragons locked in war with each other, dead Races that were not so dead after all, evil spirits that tempted men's souls and offered strange messages from dark realms, madmen caught in the grip of unseen forces that glowed green in the night. What did all of this mean? And what of the White Lady and the Queen of Clubs? Had he been cursed? Certainly his arcane sword was proof enough of that. By the gods how he hated magic. He had thought that once he escaped from the shadow of the Goth he would be free of its taint. But it had followed him even here. Yes, he had been cursed and its reach included making him a prisoner among his own people, a man feared and hated.
It had been twenty days since the battle with the orcs beneath the Dragon's Peak. Reinforcements had arrived and where there had been only ten dwarves that had survived that battle there were now over two hundred. Arn supervised the work of the dwarves as they cleared out the stinking caves, filling some with rubble, strengthening others as defensible positions. The dwarves were familiar with the ways of the orcs and made sure that they would not be able to come unawares into this new stronghold of dwarvenkind.
Great amounts of riches had already been sent back to the southern earthen halls but there was still much left. And it was clear that dwarven smiths had mined and smelted and shaped the most of it. For the Dragon's Peak lay near the foot of the Goth Mountains and in the heart of the Brahk'denKeruth, a land once ruled by Dwarf Lords whose bones had fallen to dust ages ago.
But now the dwarves were back.
In the northern reaches of the Goth somewhere to the east of Califie a young woman cleaned her bloodied body in the waters of a cold spring. Her name was Eliza. But those evil things that she had fought for so many long and dark nights now knew her only as Slayer.
Commander Kayne looked out from the battlements of Batlan Keep and for the first time in too long a time he felt hope stir within his heart. His men were busy and morale was high. With the arrival of knights and soldiers from Allaria and the wild cavalrymen of Gelda, the men of the Tumbar found new strength within their beleaguered hearts. But what had clearly turned the tide of desperation and hopelessness was that the Whitecloaks had found a way to heal the shattered minds of those who had faced the Emerald Flame.
But there was still much work to be done. The enemy that had visited them a week ago was still out there, and its nature was still unknown. How long until it attacked again, Kayne wondered. He hoped that it would not be too long before he could attack it.
Duke Hindsight lay back in a large, comfy chair and shook his head. He was not comfortable with the course of action they had decided to pursue. Oyael was lying on a couch, her eyes closed, a crystal goblet in her outstretched hand. It was half empty.
"I still don't understand," she muttered. "What is he? My magic clearly showed that he is Lord Frederigo D'Honaire. Or at least a part of him is. But other parts of him aren't even human, and he has a woman's pancreas for the love of Ganthet. What's he doing with a woman's pancreas?!"
"Well why don't we just ask him?" Hindsight suggested not for the first time.
"No!" Oyael shot back and sat up. "The White Hand has made their decision and you yourself have agreed that it is a wise one. They know everything we do. They will take it from here. Duke Dred is in no danger, regardless of what that captain may fear."
"Perhaps we should have told Locke that your Order will be waiting for them," Hindsight said.
"And that should come as a surprise to him? I'm sure Denom is expecting it," Oyael replied. "Of course, he has no way of knowing just how many of them there will be, or what they are all capable of doing."
Hindsight shuddered slightly. "You and your magic... I'm just glad that the only sorcerer in my domain is you. The gods protect me if ever my home was overrun by spellcasters and witches!"
Oyael chuckled. "I'm sure you'll miss me when I move on. And who knows who I'll be replaced with. You might just wish I never left. But for now you are as stuck with me as I am with you. Now why don't you leave me be. I have much to think about and I prefer to do my contemplating within the comfort of a hot, steamy bath. As for you, go find that pretty wife of yours. I'm sure you two have something in common. Sometimes frankly I think you spend too much time with me and Lady Tabitha might be getting jealous."
Duke Hindsight laughed and with a nod of his head left the room.
12/20/2000 1:46:32 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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