Deep in the woods near Trinsic, on a well-worn path sets a small stone inn known as the Inn of Hope. The doorway is always bathed in a warming light as the cooking fire sends smells to draw in the hungry traveler. Laughter and merriment can be heard from inside as evil, and darkness are held at bay.
On any given night you will find the Inn crowded with travelers and locals alike. Some are from faraway lands, merchants traveling the trade routes. While others are adventures on quests. Watching them all with a glint in his eyes sits an old man in rusted armor. His face worn and cracked with age and days long ago exposed to the harshness of the world. His long-tangled beard just covers the dented and flaking gold incrusted crest on his breast plate.
To the guests he’s a mystery often whispered about but the locals know him as Lord Valant. A once strong and noble knight that time has robbed. No longer does he possess a castle or stable of horses. His servants are long gone as are many of his brethren. He sets silently until the offer of drink and then his tongue begins to wag as tales of past glory spill forth.
Tonight, is no different…” The guild was known as The Knights of Day and they were men of great honor and respect”. Although his body is old and shaky his voice is anything but. The voices in the Inn drop to low hush as the booming sound coming from the fragile old man fills the air.
“I was but a squire the night they rescued the Lady from the Orcs. Little did we know that this act of devotion to our king would eventually bring about ruin to the guild.” Valant stopped and took a long draw from his drink before he continued. “You haven’t heard of the daring rescue? Well let me tell you a tale”
Valcor could feel the change in the breeze across his cheek. The trees in the surrounding mist seemed to moan a low sad song. He knew these things did not bode well and when he heard the whispered voice next to him, he was less than pleased. “The winds changed to the East. They’re sure to smell us now.”
“As I’m sure they will hear our voices carried on the wind too,” hissed Valcor. He glared in the darkness towards the figure next to him. Falon was a strong fighter but was still young in years. Since he had joined the guild Valcor had taken a disliking to him almost right away. The younger knight’s cocky air and quick wit was not how Valcor thought a proper knight should act.
“I tell you we should retreat and wait,” whispered Falon,. “We can try again in the morning.”
“Oh, so the Orcs can see us from miles. I think not. I will not leave Lady Shanna in their foul grips any longer. If you are so concerned then leave, but I shall not.” Valcor could feel the other man’s glaring look even in the darkness.
The past three days had seen the group of knights trudging through swamps and misting rains as they tracked the Orc raiding party. As dusk had descended on this, the fourth day, scouts had discovered something like a small fortress. They said it looked like the ruins of some human outpost that had been converted for the Orc’s needs. So now, a band of only sixty men sat tense and tired as they waited for the signal to charge into battle against the well protected Orcs. Valcor would have preferred it could be done some other way.
The events that had led up to this moment troubled Valcor. The Orcs had ridden far from their lands and traveled the narrow mountain pass leading to a small village just outside the city of Cove. They’d never traveled so close to the city.
In the attack on the village, the Orcs had killed only five men and had kidnapped a lady of the royal court, Lady Shanna. It was almost like they knew where to find her which could mean a traitor among the Lady’s people.
As a member of the Knights of Day, Valcor had fought Orcs for as long as he could remember. He had come to pride himself on knowing how they thought and what they would do. But this group was different. They had taken only one prisoner and had left as quickly as they had come. The village stood untouched. The question was why.
The fort was lost in the moonless night. He had sent scouts out only a short time ago and upon their return he had been told that things looked normal in the fort. They had spotted the Lady being taken into a hut. She appeared well guarded but in good health. One more thing that didn’t match any Orcs behavior he had ever seen. The Orcs were known to torture their prisoners viciously, sometimes keeping them alive for days just to carry on the pain. Valcor was sure that if they failed to get the Lady out, then her ending would not be pretty.
The knight tried to peer through the darkness and mist to the men surrounding him. He could just make out a glint of worn steel from Wallace’s armor while the odor of oiled leather filtered into his nose from Draco, his second in command. And of course, young Falon still sat near his side ready to offer completely meaningless advice. Down the line Valcor could hear the jingle of armor or the shuffle of restless feet as the rest of his forces prepared.
The attack would have to be now. Valcor could see no other choice. If they waited until sunrise then the fog would lift, and their small number would be laid out for all the Orcs to see. With a determined mind Valcor turned to the messenger who stood waiting. “We attack on my signal.”
Like a shot the messenger disappeared into the darkness to pass the order. The word would move quickly down the line, so everyone knew when to attack. His thoughts preparing for the coming battle Valcor was snapped back to the present by a tormented scream from the mist. He knew at once the messenger had been found along with his forces. “Draco, sound the call. We’ve been discovered.”
The worn elk horn was already at the man’s lips and without hesitation a low bellowing cry erupted into the night and with a scream of rage Valcor charged his men forward into the dark night.
Battle erupted all around as sounds of men wounded and dying mixed with war cries from both sides. Swords could be heard clashing while Valcor continued riding forward, his large axe gripped tight in one hand. When the yellow face of an Orc warrior appeared from fog Valcor never even slowed. With years of practice, he brought the great axe around in a sweeping motion clipping the creature across one shoulder. It screamed and fell back into the night.
When his steed finally broke from the tree line and the fog lifted slightly, Valcor slowed only a moment to ensure his men were with him. Many had managed to stagger through whatever forces the Orcs had concealed back in the fog. Draco, Wallace and Falon all were still close at hand and at least two dozen others stood not far away as they sliced through the hordes of monsters. More of the creatures seemed to be rushing at them from the fort.
“You three with me just as we planned,” Valcor yelled as he spurred his horse straight at the onslaught. He had no fear that his knights still rode with him. This was his plan; one that Falon was sure would fail. Now Valcor had the same feeling as more and more Orcs poured from the forts yawning gates.
Valcor’s mind screamed at him to stop and retreat. He knew it was madness to risk his life and all the lives of his men to save one woman. But the royal court had made this request of his guild and to fail now would only bring shame to all the Knights of Day.
The group of knights was nearly five hundred yards from the front gate when the air around them began to sizzle with electricity. The hairs on the men’s arms jumped up as if called to attention while the oncoming rush of Orcs slowed their approach in confusion. Most never even knew what hit them. Those that survived could only describe it as a great ball of lightening that screamed from the knights and into the Orcs.
A sizzling ball of bright light erupted from behind and flew past the knights and tore through the swell of approaching Orcs. A smell of burnt flesh suddenly filled the air as Orcs, engulfed in flames, ran in blind panic. The monster torches screamed in agony as they ran right back into the cluster of their fellow Orcs. Fire was now spreading among the tightly gathered group. Tattered clothes erupted in flames as the creatures fought to get away from each other. The lucky ones had died in the first flash of lightening.
Most of the charging Orcs fell back now. They seemed unsure of just what to do and by the look of it; their leadership had stood at the front of the mob and now had joined the ranks of their overly cooked subordinates. Now there was just pandemonium among their ranks.
“The old wizard did it,” yelled Wallace. Valcor could hear relief in his friend’s voice.
“Don’t lose track. We’re still riding into their home. They’ll have the advantage soon enough.” Valcor signaled them on, and the group continued forward as fast as their mounts could go.
The closer the knights rode the more disgusted they became. As they approached Valcor could now make out the grizzlier details of the fort. Human skeletons hung from all parts of the outer walls. A black slim seemed to cover all of the old logs that made up the fort’s protective barrier.
By the fort torches Valcor could see that few Orcs remained on the battlements. Most had run to join the ongoing battle. The knight’s only hope was that rest of the fort was much the same way. If that were the case then the oncoming battle inside would be quickly won and if not, the knight’s fates were sealed.
There was a crash like thunder as one side of the forts gate disappeared in a spray of splinters, in its place stood the hulking form of a troll. The knights drew up short as they saw what lay before them. Most Trolls were not easily defected and took a lot of time to kill. Time was a luxury they did not have. But this Troll seemed different from those they had faced before. The beasts were not known for their sunny disposition. Nor are they known to freely work with any other race or, each other for that matter, but this one appeared to be guarding the gate.
Either way this Troll was truly a monster. His form blocked the gateway from view with its large, thick frame. Valcor guessed the creature to stand at least ten feet. Its large shoulders seemed to stretch almost as wide as the thing was tall, making him look like something of a square block, a very dangerous square block.
“Where the hell did he come from,” yelled Wallace as he rode up to Valcor’s side.
“I’ll deal with him, you three get the lady,” shouted Draco as he shot ahead before anyone could stop him.
Valcor had to admit that if anyone had a chance at beating that monster it was Draco. The man was half dwarf, but no one could have guessed. He had his mother’s dwarven build and quick temper but his father’s barbarian height. He towered over most men and sent his enemies running just at the sight of him in full armor. Even with that strength it would be a close battle.
A decision had to be made and time was running short. Valcor looked to Falon and Wallace. “We go into the fort. Let Draco deal with the Troll. We stick to the plan,” and with that he was off again.
Ahead, Draco had already dismounted and stood before the growling beast while bringing his large mace to bear. The Troll seemed somewhat taken back by the fact that one man would choose to face him. His arms rippled with muscles as he surveyed his challenger. Draco watched with a certain curiosity. He had faced a few Trolls and much like the Orcs, this one did not act right. It acted like it was thinking. Can Trolls do that?
Draco couldn’t miss the chunks of meat missing from the monsters’ arms, obviously lost in some previous battle. Its skin was a muddy grey and the scars along its arms and chest showed white with age, he was not a young pup. This was going to be harder than he thought.
Without warning the troll lunged forward with sharp claws extended wide. Its speed caught Draco off guard, and he dove under the outstretched paw that sang only a breath above his face.
The two warriors danced away from each other and spun to meet the others eyes. The troll’s eyes seemed to blaze at Draco as they stood face to face. He could see every detail of the beasts cracked face. Lines of age and scars seemed to blend together making a road map across its grizzled features. Then there was the smell, an odor so foul it could make your stomach churn. Draco blocked all of that out and concentrated on the most important thing for the moment, killing the monster.
The Troll charged again but this time he was way too high, and Draco was ready. The knight dropped to one knew and swing his mace around in a powerful arch. The blow was completely unexpected for the Troll, and he roared as the mace bit deep in his leg just below a knee cap. A deafening crack echoed through the battlefield as bone met the heavy metal of the mace. The creature spun away and collapsed on the ground with a loud thud. His arms curled around his knee as blood shot like a fountain from the now gaping wound.
Draco moved out of the creatures reach and began circling, preparing for the deathblow. The troll, even in its pain, began moving to keep an eye on the knight. Saliva rolled from the beast’s mouth as blood continued to flow from the open wound in its leg. Draco could see the anger radiating off the thing.
Suddenly, with rage powering its body, the Troll lunged forward with a pounding fist. Draco turned to avoid the ham sized fist as it flew towards him but caught a glancing blow across his right shoulder. His mace spun across the field as it fell from useless fingers. The knight was flying through the air and when he finally came to rest a few yards away it felt like someone had hit him square in the chest. All the air flooded from his lungs and was replaced by a burning sensation as his chest heaved for a breath.
The thought of escape never entered Draco’s mind. The thought of getting the hell up before the Troll could offer a second lick, now that was a plan. As he struggled up Draco’s right arm screamed in protest. When he tried to move it the arm hung limp and useless. Still Draco forced himself on. As he staggered to his feet the blood suddenly decided it was time to rush away from his head and dizziness engulfed the knight. His vision blurred for a moment and the urge to fall back to the ground begged to be heard. Through years of conditioning Draco regained control, but only just. He knew the fight had to end quickly or it would not end in his favor.
After seeing nearly Eighty-three summers, the knight was not about to miss the next one but as he stood there, he felt all of his past wounds come screaming back in one giant wail. Aches and pains from old broken bones shouted to be heard as the broken right arm rang loudest of all.
Standing like a drunken sailor he watched his opponent as the Troll struggled to stand on the wounded leg. Pain had carved a veritable death mask across the creature’s face. Blood covered its arms and legs while still more continued to flow. With a grunt the Troll finally managed to pull itself up and stood favoring the injured leg.
Even injured its speed was incredible as Draco quickly learned. The beast slid to the left and letting out a tremendous roar shot its claws slashing through the air towards Draco. This time the knight was not quick enough and once again all the air in his lungs was lost in one mighty gasping escape as one of the monster’s claws bit through the old leather armor causing pain to shoot through Drago like a hot iron.
He let a yell escape his lips while at the same time rolled with the blow. As he tumbled Draco forced his good hand to reach for his boot and pull the short dagger concealed there. With a slicing motion he cut across the monster’s body as it passed by him, there was the sound of rending flesh as an ear fell to the already bloody ground. The Troll let out a howl that seemed to shake the very air as it stumbled away and out of Draco’s reach.
The weary knight drug himself to his feet once more. Draco could feel the pain throbbing from his side and hoped the claw had missed his lung. The energy inside him seemed to be leaving in a flood. Draco could feel the weakness of his limbs and fought to keep control. He was sure that he would die in this place, but he’d be damned if the troll wasn’t going with him.
“It’s time for you to die beastie,” and with that Draco raised his knife and charged forward.
The old mans voice went silent leaving the listeners looking on in stunned silence. After a moment he stood and looked around the room. “The hour is late. That’s all for tonight my children,” said Valant as he began shuffling towards the stairs. “Come back tomorrow and I will tell you more. And more ale, I’ll need more ale.” Then he was gone.
To be continued…