The Bard Chapter Six By Faelyn Rose Dominicâ€™s ghost watched in silence as those who had murdered him rummage through his corpse. A dozen of Jackâ€™s men were gathered in the clearing where Dominic had been beaten to death by the brigands after helping Shana to escape. The apparent leader of the group, a man with a long black beard, tossed the reagent bag and potion bottles from Dominicâ€™s pack onto the blood covered snow beside his body. Another man, with a green topknot, watched anxiously as his leader searched Dominicâ€™s remains for loot. â€œThose are the only unblessed items he had, Zingâ€ the bearded man said as he stood up â€œThat bardiche didnâ€™t fall under him, I tell you. He handed it off to the lass!â€ â€œBut whereâ€™s the lass then?â€ his cohort, Zing, asked as he surveyed the trees again â€œShe couldnâ€™t have just disappeared! She didnâ€™t have a runebook, Ben. I snooped her myself.â€ Before Ben could ponder the question of the vanishing lady, Lord Jack came striding out of the woods. He was dressed in a black hooded robe, black boots and black leather gloves. Jack made is way through the carnage, which Dominic had cause to his henchmen before dying, and stopped near the dead heroâ€™s corpse. â€œIs this the same man who refused to leave the clearing?â€ Jack asked. â€œAye, milordâ€ Ben answered â€œHeâ€™s the one alright. It must have been the woman that he was after.â€ â€œWhere is the lady, Zing?â€ Jack asked, still staring down at the battered body â€œDid you search the woods?â€ â€œWe searched, but her tracks donâ€™t go any further than that tree.â€ Zing pointed to a large cedar tree to the south. â€œShe just disappearedâ€¦â€ His words were cut short as Jack reach out and grabbed the front of Zingâ€™s robe, yanking him forward until they were nose to nose. â€œShe couldnâ€™t just disappearâ€ Jack hissed, twisting Zingâ€™s robe like a noose around his neck, choking him â€œThe lady did not carry a runebook. She could not have escaped without leaving a trail, you fool!â€ Jack pushed Zing away, causing the brigand to fall back into the snow â€œFind her!â€ Jack ordered â€œAnd quickly before she dies! I can not keep a ghost locked up in the tower! I want her alive, Zing!!â€ â€œAye, milordâ€ Zing said and scurried into the trees heading south. â€œBen!â€ Lord Jack barked â€œPost some men around this body. Our noble warrior will be back for his things as soon as he finds a healer. Kill him as many times as necessary until his magic weapon and armor have decayed along with his flesh.â€ â€œWith pleasure, my lordâ€ Ben said, smiling â€œConsider it done.â€ From beyond the trees to the north there came a low rumble. Jack turned towards the sound. It was the thunder of a herd of horses running across the frozen earth. A hunting party? This late at night and in a snow storm? The pounding hooves were now accompanied by the jingle of many bridles and the shouts of many men. In the next instant two dozen armed riders dressed in red and black swarmed into the clearing like angry hornets. Their weapons flashed as they began to cut down every man they came across. Lord Jack slipped a ring of invisibility onto his finger just before the avenging riders passed by him like a tidal wave of death and destruction. Jack pulled out his runebook and instantly recalled away, unnoticed in the confusion of the massacre taking place around him. Jackâ€™s henchmen scattered like a flock of crows, not even bothering to put up a fight. But the mounted warriors chased the cowardly brigands into the woods, relentless in their pursuit. Soon the corpses of Jackâ€™s once dangerous gang of murderers were scattered on the ground in every direction. The mounted warriors regrouped in the clearing, their black and red tunics, capes and shields contrasting against the pure white of the snow. Half the men formed a defensive circle around the perimeter of the clearing, while the others continued to patrol the trees for Jackâ€™s men. Lord Augustus guided his ethereal steed around the dead body of his only son. He carried in his gauntlet cover fist Dominicâ€™s magic bardiche. Augustus stood in his stirrups searching the trees for the spirit of his heir. â€œDominic show yourself!â€ he commanded. The ghost in question appeared at his side and the old lord cast the resurrection spell upon it. With a hum of magic energy, Dominic was transformed into mortal form once more. â€œThank you, fatherâ€ Dominic said with a smile â€œYou arrived in record time.â€ he knelt and began to gather leather armor from his decaying corpse. Lord Augustus cast greater heal three times on Dominic, bringing him to full health. â€œI came as soon as I received your message!â€ Augustus chuckled â€œLady Shana delivered your weapon to me, as well. Have you not enough coin in your bank to insure this priceless bardiche?!â€ Dominic laughed as he pulled his torn and bloodied leather tunic over his head â€œOf course the weapon is insured, I was using one of your favorite tactics to protect the woman from harm.â€ â€œHah! And what tactic is that, pray tell?â€ Augustus asked. â€œTo remove an inexperienced warrior from the field by sending him on an urgent mission, of course.â€ Dominic answered as he fitted his leather gorget around his neck â€œYou have used that ploy on many novice fighters over the years. Myself included, Sire.â€ Lord Augustusâ€™ clansmen, who had surrounded Dominic, laughed and hooted in agreement. â€œA clever tactic, indeed.â€ Augustus grinned. When Dominic was finished dressing, his father tossed the magic bardiche to him â€œHere is your most prized possession, my son. I return it to you, cleaned and ready to use again.â€ Dominic caught the weapon in one hand, testing the balance of it and checking the blade for damage. â€œAnd the Lady Shana?â€ Dominic asked, meeting his fatherâ€™s gaze as he slung the weapon onto his back. Augustus gave him a sly smile â€œSafe, my son.â€ â€œHow safe, father?â€ Dominicâ€™s look was one of concern. â€œFour armed guards and my faithful servant Roscoe will escort your Shana back to her family.â€ Lord Augustus reassured him as he handed Dominic his runebook. Dominic tucked the runebook away in his pack â€œGoodâ€ he said, ignoring his fatherâ€™s teasing smile. Lady Shana was too distracting to even think about right now. â€œLord Jack is too quick for you, I fearâ€ Dominic said, changing the subject â€œHe escaped like a serpent under a rock.â€ â€œHe may have escapedâ€ Augustus winked at Dominic â€œUnless, of course, he decided to slither back to his tower. In that case Jack will be in for a little surpriseâ€ A smile slowly spread across Dominicâ€™s face. His eyes narrowed with a dangerous glint. â€œHe is mine, father.â€ Dominic growled as he mounted his ethereal steed â€œI have a score to settle with his lordship, Jack.â€ Lord Augustus laughed out loud before ordering his clansmen to head north towards The Grove of Love and the lair of the Dread Lord Jack. The silence of the night was once again broken by the thunder of hooves pounding over the frozen earth. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Jack appeared near the entrance of his Felucca tower. For an instant he smiled, secure in the thought that he had escaped the fate of his men. But he blinked his eyes in disbelief as he gazed at the front door of his home. Eight mounted warriors dressed in red and black were lined up, shoulder to shoulder, across the wide steps leading into the tower. They sat silently atop their steeds, capes and banners waving in the frigid wind, blocking Jack from his fortress. â€œWhat is the meaning of this?!â€ Jack demanded, as he backed away from the steps. He opened his runebook as he inched towards the trees â€œWhat business have you here, gentlemen?â€ Two sets of strong hands grabbed Jack from behind and his runebook fell into the snow at his feet. Jack swiveled his head around to find another ten mounted warriors between himself and the woods. Two more men on foot were holding him prisoner. One of the warriors who were lined up on the steps before him dismounted. The fighter removed his helmet revealing a long silken mane of black hair and the face of a beautiful dark eyed woman. As the enchanting woman walked towards Jack, her long black cape parted to expose red female armor and red boots. She stopped within inches of Jack and gave him a smile that did not reach her eyes â€œMy business is with you, Lord Jackâ€ she told him â€œI am Regina, daughter of Lord Augustus, protector of the innocent.â€ Regina drew her weapon, a golden katana, from her belt and lifted the sharp point of the blade until it touched the tip of Jackâ€™s nose â€œI understand that you are in the habit of abusing young women, my lord.â€ Reginaâ€™s eyes narrowed as she looked Jack over with obvious distain â€œI am told that you hold them against their will in your run down excuse of a towerâ€ she sneered and jerked her head in the direction of Jackâ€™s home. â€œWhat say you? How do you answer these charges.â€ â€œThis is a family matterâ€¦!!â€Jack exploded with rage, but was cut off as Reginaâ€™s blade nicked the flesh on the end of his nose, drawing blood. â€œFamily matter?!â€ Regina laughed â€œYou would have me believe that a member of your own family was forced to seek refuge in the house of Lord Augustus!â€ She slid the blade across his cheek, opening the flesh. Jack cried out in pain. â€œI will have the truth, my lord!!â€ â€œYou have no right to keep her, you harpyâ€™s spawn!!â€ Jack ranted â€œShana is my sister in law!! You will return her to me at once!!â€ In the next moment Lord Augustus and his clansmen came thundering into the clearing around Lord Jackâ€™s tower, distracting Regina from her interrogation. Jack seized the opportunity to use his wrestling skills upon those who tried to hold him, freeing his arms and tumbling away from the warriors around him. As quickly as Jack spun away, Regina was upon him. Her katana hissed through the air, hacking Jackâ€™s leg and leaving him unable to run. With a cry of agony Jack retreated, limping only a few steps before turning back towards Regina. He conjured an energy bolt which knocked Regina into the snow. A war cry sounded nearby and Jack turned to see Dominic galloping towards him with a look of fury contorting his face. The warriorâ€™s magic weapon gleamed in the moonlight as Dominic vaulted from his steed and ran the last few feet to where Jack was standing. Jack retrieved his ring of invisibility from his pack with lightning speed. The ring was within a hairâ€™s breadth of his finger when Dominicâ€™s bardiche severed Jackâ€™s head cleanly from his shoulders. The dread lordâ€™s body stood upright for several seconds before it crumbled into the snow. Dominic stood over Jackâ€™s body holding his bloody bardiche â€œThat is for Shanaâ€ he said as the ghost of Lord Jack vanished into the night â€œBut this is not finished, Jackâ€ he shouted after the retreating spirit â€œI shall take great pleasure in killing you each time we meet.â€ Dominic walked over to where his sister still sat in the snow and offered her his hand â€œI am sorry to spoil your fun, â€˜Gina.â€ He told her as he helped her up â€œBut I could not take the chance of that one escaping again.â€ Regina returned her katana to its resting place against her hip â€œA quick death was too good for the likes of Lord Jack, brother, it is better than he deservedâ€ she told Dominic as she mounted her ethereal steed. Lord Augustus cast a moongate and called to his men â€œOur work is done here. Letâ€™s us leave this foul place for hearth and home, lads.â€ His clansman cheered a resounding â€œHUZZAH!!â€ before following their lord through the gate. Regina caught her brotherâ€™s arm before he could enter the gate â€œThe scoundrel told me that your lady is his sister in law, Dominic. Is this true?â€ she watched the look of surprise her words brought to Dominicâ€™s face. â€œI could not say, Ginaâ€ Dominic told her, a frown creasing his brow â€œI only know that Shana Rose was in need of rescue from this place and that manâ€ he nodded his head towards the corpse in the snow â€œI sent her home, as was her wish.â€ Dominic said and urged his mount through the gate. Regina cast one last look at the decapitated body of Lord Jack before following her brother. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ The sun was beginning to rise as Shana and her guardians approached The Journeyâ€™s End Inn. Still wrapped in Dominicâ€™s black cape and riding upon Lord Augustusâ€™ ethereal steed, Shana was finally returning home. As the group drew near the wide front porch of the Inn, Shana saw five year old Angus peering at them through a spyglass. As soon as Angus spotted Shana he began calling for his mother, Jeanne Rose, and waving his arms wildly. The child then bounded down the steps and ran across the lawn towards Shana. Jeanne Rose came hurrying through the double front doors of the Inn, followed by Kayla and Katie Rose. The women shaded their eyes with their hands and searched the horizon to the south of the building. Upon recognizing her missing sister, Katie Rose ran towards the approaching party, while the other two women waited on the steps. Young Angus was the first to reach Shana, wrapping his arms around her leg as she sat astride atop her mount. â€œShana I found you! Papa told me to watch for you with my spy glass and I found you!!â€ Shana reached down, pulled Angus into her lap and hugged him as she neared her home â€œIndeed, my brave warrior, you found me.â€ â€œShana!! Shana!!â€ cried Katie Rose as she reached her sisterâ€™s side â€œWhere have you been?!!â€ she took Shanaâ€™s hand and walked along beside the ethereal steed â€œYou gave us such a fright!!â€ â€œI am sorry, Katieâ€ Shana told her as she placed a kiss upon the top of Angusâ€™ head â€œI did not mean to cause you worry. I was taken on an unexpected detour.â€ Shana gave Katieâ€™s hand a squeeze â€œBut I am home now, safe and sound, thanks to these noble knights and their most generous Lord.â€ Katie studied the five heavily armed warriors, dressed in black and red, who were riding in formation around her sister â€œI donâ€™t understand, Shana,â€ Katie Rose said lowering her voice â€œHow did you come to be with these men?â€ Shana drew her mount to a halt beside the stable gates and let Angus slide gently to the ground â€œIt is a long tale, sister. And one which I will gladly share. But first tell me, where is Amanda?â€ Shana asked as she dismounted. She was immediately surrounded by Kayla and Jeanne Rose. Kayla threw her arms around Shana â€œEveryone is out searching for you, young lady! Amanda is beside herself with worry!â€ Kayla said as she hugged Shana tightly and then drew back to allow Jeanne Rose to take her place. â€œPoor Seamus seems to have aged ten years in the last dayâ€ Katie said as she wiped tears of joy from her eyes with the corner of her apron â€œNo one has slept since you disappeared. I donâ€™t understand, Shana. Why didnâ€™t you return to the dungeon? Where have you been?â€ Shana wiped sudden tears from her own eyes with the back of her hand. She was so tired and shaken from all that had happen, she just wanted to go to her room and climb into bed. â€œI will tell you everything after I thank these kind menâ€¦â€ Shana turned and stopped mid sentence. Lord Augustusâ€™ warriors were gone. They had quietly departed, leaving Shana safely with her family. Shana looked down at the black woolen cape which she still wore. Dominic had fulfilled his promise. He had rescued Shana from the frightening Felucca forest and returned her safely to her family. A weary smile curved her lips and in her heart Shana silently thanked Dominic for all that he had done. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ When Amanda and Seamus received word that Shana Rose had returned home, they immediately made their way to The Journeyâ€™s End Inn. It was late afternoon and the couple found the rest of their family already gathered on the second floor of the Inn around the hearth in the common room. Bronson and Patrick were teaching young Angus to play checkers at a table by the window, while Kayla, Jeanne Rose, Katie Rose and the infant Molly Rose enjoyed the warmth of the fire. The women were sewing as Molly played upon a bear skin rug at their feet. â€œWhere is Shana?â€ Amanda asked anxiously, crossing the room to her sister. Katie Rose placed her index finger against her lips â€œShush, Amanda. Shana has retired to her room.â€ she whispered â€œWhen last I looked in she was asleep.â€ Amanda and Seamus joined the ladies, each pulling up a chair by the hearth. â€œWhat was her explanation?â€ Amanda whispered â€œWhere has she been?â€ â€œTwas that black hearted Jack that had the lass.â€ Patrick said, rising up out of his chair. â€œI SWEAR THAT I SHALL HUNT HIM DOWNâ€¦.â€ His booming voice stopped abruptly as everyone else in the room said â€œSSSSHHHHH!â€ in unison. â€œJack?â€ Amanda repeated, bewildered â€œJack was to blame for Shanaâ€™s disappearance?â€ â€œAye, he was in the dungeon and saw her die.â€ Bronson informed Amanda â€œHe sent a couple of his men to find her at the healer and bring her to his home.â€ â€œI will never understand my brotherâ€ Seamus said with a scowl â€œHis need to cause trouble at every turn has always baffled me.â€ â€œJack told Shana that he was protecting her from OUR stupidityâ€ Bronson grinned â€œby keeping her locked up in a tower in Felucca.â€ Seamusâ€™ face turned a deep shade of red as he roared in outrage. â€œPROTECTING HER FROM OUR STUPIDITY???!!â€ â€œSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!â€ the others reminded him to lower his voice. There was complete silence for a moment while Amanda and Seamus digested the explanation of Shanaâ€™s disappearance. Finally Amanda sprang up from her chair â€œI must see her.â€ she reached out her hand to her sister Katie â€œCome, Katie, show me where she sleeps.â€ Katie took Amandaâ€™s hand and together they climbed the narrow stairs which led up to the third floor. There was a long corridor lined with doors on either side, each door leading into a bedroom. Katie guided Amanda half way down the corridor and quietly opened one of the doors. Once again Katie placed her finger against her lips and cautioned Amanda to silence. The two women peeked into the quiet room and saw Shana Rose curled on her side in the center of a large bed. Amanda felt tears of joy fill her eyes at the sight of her youngest sister. â€œThank the gods that she is home againâ€ Amanda Rose said softly. â€œBut what in the world is she wearing?â€ she asked Katie, wiping her eyes with a lace handkerchief. â€œCome down stairsâ€ Katie whispered â€œand I will tell you all I know about our dear little sisterâ€™s adventure.â€ Amanda carefully closed the door, leaving Shana to sleep in peace. Shana Rose remained as her sisters had found her; fast asleep with her bright hair spread across the white pillow, her hand curled against her cheek and her entire body cocooned within the warmth of a large black cape. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ The hour was late when Lord Augustus and his family finished their dinner in the private rooms of his fortress. He and his lady wife, Loria, along with their grown children, Dominic and Regina were gathered around a table by the fire. Lady Loria, directed the servant, Roscoe, to remove the dinner plates from the table. The wife of Lord Augustus was dressed in a scarlet robe, her silver hair carefully woven into two buns on either side of her head. It was a style befitting a lady of advanced age. A style from a time long ago. Her daughter, Regina, was also clad in scarlet, while the men wore robes of black. â€œSo once again my brother is a heroâ€ Regina said, as she poured wine into her fatherâ€™s cup â€œgallantly coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress.â€ she moved around the table filling Dominicâ€™s cup as well â€œI am sure that she will be eternally grateful to you for aiding in her escapeâ€ Regina slanted a sly smile in her brotherâ€™s direction. Dominic frowned at his sister. Regina had always taken delight in baiting her older brother and knew the best ways in which to do it. He felt annoyance at Regina for giving their father a reason to turn the conversation to the topic of Dominic finding a suitable wife. The old lord made no secret of the fact that he longed for grandchildren. â€œYou showed great trust in Lady Shanaâ€ Lord Augustus told Dominic â€œby giving her your bardiche.â€ â€œThe question of trust never entered my mindâ€ Dominic replied. â€œTrust is important between a man and a womanâ€ Augustus told him. â€œAye. An honorable woman makes a good wife.â€ Regina added smiling at her brotherâ€™s discomfort. Dominic said nothing â€œI am sorry that I was not able to meet the young woman who returned your bardiche, Dominic.â€ Loria said as she sipped her wine â€œYour father tells me that she was quite lovely.â€ â€œA flame haired beauty, I believe were his exact wordsâ€ Regina corrected sweetly â€œWould that be a fair assessment of the ladyâ€™s charms, brother?â€ Dominic sat back in his chair, rested his elbows on the arm rests and steepled his fingers below his nose. His dark eyes narrowed intently as he stared at his sister â€œA very fair assessment, Gina.â€ â€œPerhaps we shall meet your lady sometime in the near futureâ€ Regina continued with an impish grin â€œyou must invite her to tea this week.â€ â€œExcellent idea!â€ Lord Augustus chimed in, his face lit with anticipation â€œThe lady was fair of face and quick of wit. Your mother and I would be most happy to entertain your young friendâ€¦â€ Dominic stood up abruptly â€œFather please!â€ he said, a scowl darkening his face â€œI scarcely know Shana and she is barely out of the classroom. No doubt, you would have me engaged to her within the week.â€ he cast his sister a look of warning as she giggled â€œWhen will you cease to meddle in my affairs?â€ â€œDominic is right, Augustusâ€ Loria told her husband as she rose from her chair â€œyou can not choose a wife for your son. Try to find some other way to amuse yourself, my love.â€ she kissed Augustusâ€™ cheek as she passed him on her way towards the door. â€œCome, Regina. You have taunted your poor brother enough for one evening.â€ Regina sighed as she pushed back her chair â€œAye, motherâ€ she said rolling her eyes. â€œGood night, Fatherâ€ she brush a kiss on Augustusâ€™ forehead â€œGood night, hero.â€ Regina saluted Dominic as she disappeared through the door. Dominic leaned his arm against the wooden mantle of the fireplace and stared into the flames. Again the image of Shanaâ€™s face just before she recalled away rose up in his mind. The sorrow in her eyes as she watched him die seemed to haunt Dominic. He would not admit to anyone that he wto see Shana Rose. For Dominic knew that she was far too young for him to pursue. It was best for both he and the lady that they should not meet again. â€œI had Roscoe make this for youâ€ Augustusâ€™s voice interrupted Dominicâ€™s thoughts â€œdo with it as you please, my son.â€ â€œWhat is it?â€ Dominic asked, still staring into the flames. â€œI will leave it here upon the tableâ€ Augustus answered in a tired voice â€œGood night, Dominicâ€ his father said and quietly left the room. â€œGood night, Fatherâ€ Dominic mumbled, keeping his back to the empty room. Dominic turned his head and surveyed the dinning room table. There upon the shining wood was a recall rune, its color had been turned to a dull blue with the magic of being mark in Malas. Dominic picked it up and let his thumb slide across the smooth surface of the stone. The ancient runic symbol, which marks all runes, appeared on the top. Turning the marked rune slowly in his palm, Dominic read the inscription on the bottom, naming the destination of the stone. It read: The Home of Shana Rose.