The Bard Chapter Three By Lady Faelyn Rose The cold north wind sent a chill through Shana’s grey robe as she stepped out of the moongate. She was standing in a clearing before a huge stone tower. The walls of the tower were covered with vines and moss. Worn stone steps led to rusted iron double doors. Shana could hear a lich laughing somewhere in the thick forest beyond the tower as she approached the steps. The sound of a shout made Shana look up to see guards standing on the tower roof. One of the guards signaled to Charlie with a wave of his arm and Charlie returned the gesture. “Why have you brought me here?” Shana asked. “We was ordered to, miss” Ivan told her. Charlie and Ivan positioned themselves on either side of Shana, each man taking hold of an arm. They hustled the young woman up the stone steps. The hinges squeaked as Ivan pulled open one side of the rusted iron doors. “Where are we?” Shana questioned as they crossed the threshold. “This is his lordship’s tower” Charlie answered as she was led into the dimly lit first floor of the tower. The door was pulled shut and the sound of the bolt being thrown into place echoed ominously off the stone walls. “Seamus does not own a tower in Felucca” Shana said in confusion. The lower floor of the tower appeared to be used as a workshop and stable. Shana could see horse stalls along the far wall and a large forge and anvil against the back wall. Racks of weapons and armor covered most of the remaining walls. Barrels and chest were stacked in a corner next to wide stone stairs leading up. Three men were playing cards around a table in the center of the room. They turned and stared at Shana as she was led towards the stairs. “Where is Seamus?” Shana demanded loudly, pulling her escorts to a halt at the base of the stairs. “Don’t know no Seamus, miss” Ivan replied. He and Charlie used their combined strength to haul Shana up the stairs “His lordship said to bring you here and we do as we’re told.” “Come along quiet like, miss” Charlie said in a low voice “His lordship is a fierce mean man when he don’t get his way.” “Aye, he is” Ivan agreed solemnly. Realization that Seamus had not sent these men suddenly dawned on Shana Rose. As panic began to set in, she wrenched her arms out of the grasp of her kidnappers and ran down the stairs to the front door of the tower. Shana managed to throw back the bolt and wedge one of the doors open a few inches before she was dragged away by Charlie and Ivan. “NOOO!! LET ME OUT!!” Shana screamed at the top of her lungs. But the hollow sound of the iron door closing and the bolt being thrown back into place was her answer. The men playing cards laughed and jeered as she was once again forced up the stone stairs. The stairwell was lit by a single torch which flickered in a frigid draft. Shana dragged her bare feet on the ice cold stone of the stairs in an attempt to slow the progress of her kidnappers. They hauled her up to the second floor and down a short hallway. Ivan opened a heavy wooden door and Shana was brought into a cavernous room. The room appeared to be a formal dining hall. It was also dimly lit by a single candle placed on a long dining table. A roaring fire popped and crackled in the hearth at the far end of the room. Two large wooden chairs were placed before the fire. The room seemed empty at first. Ivan and Charlie gave Shana a push forward towards the fireplace. “We brought her, my lord” Charlie said into the darkness “we found her in Britain.” A whisper of movement caught Shana’s eye as a man materialized from the shadows and stood before the hearth. His silhouette was outlined against the flames making his face impossible to see. Shana took a step backwards, shaking visibly. “What do you want with me?” she questioned the stranger. The man did not answer. Instead, he sat in one of the fireside chairs keeping his back to the fire. “Leave us!!” the man commanded. Charlie and Ivan turned and scurried from the room. “Who are you?” Shana asked, shivering with fear and cold “Why have you brought me here?” She heard the man chuckle. When he finally spoke, his voice was calm and hypnotic “Don’t look so frightened, Shana Rose. I mean you no harm.” the man stood up and slowly walked around the table. Shana felt like a mouse trapped under a cat’s paw. She backed further away. “You may not remember me, but I shall never forget you, child.” As the man drew closer the light from the candle revealed his face. “Jack!” Shana gasped. “So you do remember” Jack looked pleased. “Come stand by the fire. You look quite cold, my dear.” he took her arm and guided her to the blazing hearth. Shana was too stunned to object. Jack was just as handsome as Shana remembered. Throughout her childhood Seamus’ brother had been her ideal hero. She had nurtured a childish romantic fantasy about the charming and dangerous man who visited her sister’s home. It had broken her heart when Jack turned out to be a murderer. He had even tried to murder is own brothers on a Felucca treasure hunt six years ago. “Jack, I don’t understand! Why did those men bring me here? Where is Seamus?” she asked, holding her hands near the warmth of the flames. “Seamus? Why would my paragon of a brother be here?” he started to laugh. “Those men…they said my brother-in-law…” she stopped. The men had never said Seamus’ name “You tricked me! You had your men bring me here thinking that…” “Am I not your brother-in-law?” Jack asked with a wicked grin “No one has lied to you. You chose to hear what you wanted to hear, nothing more.” Shana stared up at Jack with complete dismay. He smiled back. “You frightened me to death, Jack!!” Shana said, anger replacing her fear and shock “What is going on?” Jack motioned Shana to sit in one of the large chairs close to the fire. “Warm yourself before you catch a chill.” He moved to a small table set against the wall and filled a goblet with wine. “This should help” Jack said returning to Shana. He placed the goblet into her hand and made himself comfortable in the other large chair beside her “Drink up and I shall tell you what you want to know.” Jack watched as Shana gratefully drank the wine. “Now, to answer your question” he said as the wine began to bring warmth back into her limbs “I was in the dungeon Despise today when you arrive with your” he paused “with our family. I could not believe my eyes when I saw what those two blundering brothers of mine had done” a frown darken his face “bringing a child like yourself into such a foul and dangerous place…” “I asked to be brought to that foul place…” she interrupted. “They should have known better!!” Jack exploded, anger showing clearly in his eyes “They should have known that you would be maimed and killed within minutes of your arrival.” he sprang from his chair and began to pace in his agitation. “It was my own fault” she argued “I am not a child, Jack. I should have done as I was told and stayed close to the group.” “You were in no position to judge whether or not it was too dangerous!” he ranted “You have no experience with which to make such a decision! It was up to my brothers to protect you. And at that task they failed completely!” Jack scowled down at her “They should have known better.” he spat the words out with such hatred that Shana felt afraid of him. Shana took another sip of wine. She had never seen Jack angry before. His rage was a frightening thing to witness. She proceeded cautiously for fear of provoking another outburst. “Was it you that I heard calling to me in the dungeon?” she asked trying to calm her host. “Of course, who else would know your name? Who else would take the time to remove you from that filthy pit?” he stopped his pacing and looked thoughtfully at Shana “But you turned and ran like a frightened rabbit. Moments later you were, in fact, quite dead.” He smiled with satisfaction “Were you not?” “Aye” she sighed “Tis sad but true.” “Just as I predicted” Jack gloated. “So you kidnapped me to keep me from being killed again?” “Kidnapped is such a harsh word, my dear” Jack said smoothly “I prefer that you think of it as being escorted out of danger.” “You were saving me?” Shana asked. “Exactly” There was a lull in the conversation as Shana digested this information. She took another sip of her wine. Jack was a strange man, she thought. It was quite clear that he was not accustomed to anyone disagreeing with him. Charlie had warned her that Jack was ‘a fierce mean man when he didn’t get his way’. But his actions had been driven by a concern for her safety. How could she be angry with someone who had her best interests at heart. “Well, whatever motivated you to bring me here, Jack, I must say I am happy to see you again.” She told him. “I was hoping you would be, Shana Rose. The last time we met you were weeping for me. Do you remember that day?" “Aye” Shana smiled “I was sure I would never see you again. You were my knight in shining armor” she laughed “My childhood idol.” “And now?” he asked, his eyes narrowed and a wicked smile curved his lips. Shana was not sure how to answer “I am grown now. I know that heroes are not always what they appear to be.” “My dear young Shana.” Jack laughed “There are no heroes left in this world. Only men driven by ambitions and greed.” “I hope that you are wrong, Jack.” Shana said quietly. The effects of the wine were beginning to wear off. Shana shivered and tried to tuck her bare feet beneath her grey robe. Jack took note of this and offered his arm to Shana. “Come with me, child, let us find you something warmer to wear.” Shana took Jack’s arm and let herself be led through the tower to a room on the third floor. Jack opened the heavy wooden door and bowed with flourish “Your room my lady” he announced as she entered. The chamber was decorated in rich hues of green and gold. Costly tapestries covered the walls and plush polar bear fur formed a carpet across the floor. A cheery fire burned in the hearth and the large four poster bed was decorated with colorful pillows. As Shana moved closer she saw a blue velvet dress laid out upon the bed. “This is lovely” Shana said, holding the dress up to examine. Placed on the floor beside the bed were matching shoes “Oh Jack, thank you.” she exclaimed as she slipped her feet into the soft leather “my feet are near frozen.” “I am glad you like them, my dear. Get dressed and I will be back in thirty minutes” Jack told her as he closed the door. Shana heard the sound of the lock falling into place. She hurried over to the door and tried to open it. Jack had locked her in. “Am I a prisoner?” Shana asked through the heavy wood of the door “Jack?” But she heard the sound of his footsteps moving away, down the stairs. “How strange” she said to herself. Was Jack once again trying to protect her? Was she in danger from those wicked men downstairs? With a sigh she slipped into the heavy velvet gown. She found a comb on a table by the bed and sat on a stool before the fire. She combed and braided her hair as the flames in the fireplace warmed her. She wasn’t sure if she should be frightened of Jack or not. He was a murderer with a volatile temper. At times he reminded her of a spoilt child and yet he cared enough about her welfare to bring her to his home. Jack was perplexing to say the least. Minutes later there was a light tap upon the door. Shana heard the lock being unlocked and went to stand by the door. Jack smiled when he saw her. “Lovely” he said and offered his arm to her once more “Blue suits you, Shana. From now on you shall always wear blue.” he told her as they made their way back to the dining hall. “Always?” Shana asked, confused by the remark. “Yes, always” “Why did you lock me in, Jack?” Shana asked as Jack held the door to the dining room open for her. “For your protection, my dear.” Jack and Shana shared a quiet lunch by the fire in the dining room. Shana entertained her host with news about their family. It had been six years since Jack had been banished from Mountain View and much had happened in that time. Shana told him about the wedding of Jeanne Rose and Bronson and the birth of their son, Angus. She made him laugh with tales about the tiny warrior and his antics. She told Jack about the Journey’s End Inn and the fact that most of their family resided there now. “It is sad that you can not come to visit us, Jack” Shana said at the end of the meal “If only there were some way to repair the bond between you and your brothers.” Jack chuckled “You can not repair something that never existed, Shana. It is not likely that my brothers and I will ever see the world in the same way.” “But you used to visit Mountain View when I was a child.” “That seems a lifetime ago. I am ruler of my own kingdom here” he smiled with satisfaction “I am content, for now.” Shana stood up “Nevertheless, I shall tell Seamus and Bronson how well you have treated me today. Despite the unfortunate misunderstanding which brought me to this tower, I have enjoyed our visit. Perhaps it will help pave the way to some future communication between you and the rest of the family.” Jack remained seated, saying nothing. “If you would be so kind as to cast a moongate to Mountain View, I really should be leaving. Amanda will be worried if I do not return with the rest of the hunting party.” “I will send word to your dear sister that you are alive and well, Shana Rose. But I have decided that you will be staying with me for awhile longer.” Jack said in a most congenial way. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Dominic wiped the blood from the razor sharp blade of his magic bardiche with an oil cloth. He had left a trio of brigand corpses half a mile away and returned to his vigil in the woods surrounding the Grove of Love. The snow had been falling steadily for three hours but he took no notice. Thick leather armor and a black woolen cape protected Dominic from the elements. He crouched in the shadow of an oak tree and watched the guards on the tower roof as he cleaned his weapon. His only choice now was to wait until nightfall. Under cover of darkness he might be able to enter the tower of the Dread Lord Jack. Hours ago, Dominic had returned to the healer in Britain. After donning new armor and refilling his pack, he had decided to help Shana Rose by providing a moongate to the dungeon Despise. He was going to Despise anyways, Dominic told himself as he headed north along the cobblestone street. The fact that she was pretty and sweet would make the journey back a pleasant one indeed. As he approached the spot where he had last seen the lady, Dominic witnessed an unsettling scene. Two henchmen of the Dread Lord Jack were accompanying Shana into a moongate. Dominic knew the faces of those despicable villains well. He had seen them many times in the Felucca dungeons where the champions spawn. They preyed upon the injured and lost warriors who wandered too far from the battle. Any warrior who spent time battling murderers in Felucca knew the reputation of Lord Jack. Lord Jack’s home was in the heart shaped clearing south of Yew known as the Grove of Love. An ironic place for a man filled with such evil to make his home, Dominic thought. Shana was in danger if she stayed in the company of Lord Jack’s men. He hoped for her sake that they had not taken her to their master. As he watched them disappear into the moongate, Dominic strode over to the glowing red sphere. He waited for several seconds to give Jack’s henchmen time to exit the moongate and move away from it. Then Dominic had followed them through the magic orb. He exited the portal to find himself standing before the Felucca tower of Lord Jack. The men had indeed taken the innocent young woman to the Grove of Love. Dominic sprinted into the nearby woods and knelt behind the thick underbrush. From this position he watched as the two ruthless men led Shana into the tower. The men had escorted her inside and locked the iron doors. It was impossible for Dominic to tell whether or not Shana was entering the tower of her own free will. As Dominic was assessing the situation from his concealed position in the trees, he heard the creak of rusted hinges as one side of the iron door began to open. Then he heard Shana’s terrified scream to be released. The heavy iron door was pulled shut as Dominic raced out into the open to aid the lady. But in running across the clearing to the front door, Dominic had attracted the attention of the rooftop guards. The guards had showered him with crossbow bolts. He managed to reach the door only to find it locked again. Dominic retreated, taking two bolts in the back as he ran for the cover of trees. He barely had time to remove the bolts and cast greater heal upon himself when he heard the iron doors opening once more. Three heavily armed warriors were being dispatched to hunt him down. Dominic led the three brigands through the woods and into a small clearing just south of the tower. As they approached, he used his wrestling skills to deliver a paralyze blow to the archer before taking up his bardiche and attacking the fencer. The bardiche completely severed the man’s arm at the elbow. One more hack and the fencer lay motionless on the ground. Whirling around, Dominic caught the warrior brandishing a halberd in the ribs while neatly ducking beneath the deadly blade of his opponent. He felt a bolt slam into his back and knew the paralyze spell had worn off the archer. Casting flame strike onto the warrior with the halberd to finish him off, Dominic then turned his attention to the remaining brigand with the crossbow. He rushed the archer, making it impossible for the murderer to take aim. The archer could not avoid the bardiche’s deadly blade on the down stoke. The badly wounded brigand turned and ran back into the woods with Dominic close upon his heels. Dominic zig zagged through the trees in pursuit of the injured archer. In one fluid movement he slung the bardiche across his backpack and tackled the fleeing brigand with his bare hands. It took only three blows from Dominic’s powerful fists to end the life of the archer. Dominic stood beside the brigand’s corpse; his breath misted in the cold air as he reached over his shoulder and pulled the crossbow bolt out of his back. He cast greater heal upon himself and tossed the bolt onto the ground beside the archer’s body. Snow was beginning to fall quietly around him. Retrieving the bardiche from its resting place across his pack, Dominic had headed back to the spot under the oak tree where he now kept vigil on the tower of Lord Jack. Four times in the hours that followed warriors from the tower had ventured forth to challenge Dominic. Four times he had met that challenge and prevailed. After the last defeat the brigands had remained safely behind the walls of Lord Jack’s tower. Dominic chuckled. Perhaps they had collected enough grey robes for one day. He gave the magic bardiche’s blade one final wipe with the oil cloth and then carefully tucked the fabric away in his pack. His father, Lord Augustus, had given him the weapon only a month ago. Its powerful magic gave Dominic the advantage in most battles. The hum of magic energy brought his attention back to Lord Jack’s hideout. It signaled the opening of a red moongate near the worn steps of the tower. As Dominic watched, a large party of murderers exited the moongate and headed directly for the front doors. They greeted the rooftop guards with hoots and laughter. Dominic surmised that this was a band of murderers returning from Despise. Some carried bulging sacks of what he assumed to be loot from victims in the dungeon. Dominic was tempted to try and force his way into the tower as he heard both iron doors being opened to admit the returning brigands. But he counted ten armed men in the party and knew that he would not survive a fight against such numbers. Wait until nightfall, Dominic thought. Then he would climb the walls of the tower and enter through the roof. The two guards stationed there would not hinder him. Once inside Dominic would have to take his chances. But he knew that his chances were not good. With so many warriors present and Shana’s location within the tower unknown to him, the odds of success were slim to none. No matter what the odds were he could not leave without trying to save Shana Rose. Even though it meant almost certain death. Lord Augustus had always told his son how proud he was of Dominic’s prowess and determination on the battle field. Augustus often boasted to his friends that his son had the heart of a hero. But as Dominic waited in the freezing cold for the chance to enter a stronghold filled with murderers he smiled. He was beginning to wonder if he had the heart of a hero or the wits of a village idiot.