“So, the Knights saved the Lady Shanna. That should be the end of it,” said the patron as he plopped down at a table close to Valant.
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you,” replied the old knight slyly. “Oh, there’s much more. You see I haven’t even mentioned the Guild Master Falstaff or what he thought of these events. And Falon along with Draco were tasked with returning the Lady.” Valant took a sip of his ale. “Much more to tell, much, much more.”
“Damn it Ash I thought you were going to be doing the fishing. I am not a fisherman.” Said Falstaff as he tossed his line into the water.
“I have been fishing for the last two weeks. I think you can do a turn for a while. Besides I think we have plenty of fish to take care of the guild for the winter.”
“Not if we keep growing like this. Beside I told you we are almost home. We should be touched down by sundown.” Falstaff had been married to Ashton for close to ten years and during that entire time it seemed the two could only bicker but they’re love was strong towards each other.
“I cannot wait to get off this boat and sleep in my own bed.” Said Ash as she stretched out on the deck. Falstaff looked on as the beads of sweat danced across her tanned form.
He had to agree with his wife. A night in his own bed would be a Gods send. They had been gone nearly a month trading up and down the coast for supplies. The mages predicated a harsh winter and Fal liked to be prepared. But he longed for the comfort of the guilds castle with its warm fires and feathered beds.
Falstaff was pulled from his thoughts by a tugging on the fishing line. “Oh, now here’s a good bite.” He said as he began dragging the line in. “This could be the biggest one yet.”
Suddenly the water around the small boat erupted as a creature burst out of the water. Falstaff dropped the pole and ran for his sword as the Kraken began throwing fireballs from its long tentacles. From below deck Fal heard a startled cry as Tiny, the only other crewmember on ship, came running to the deck.
“Fal that’s a Kraken,” yelled Tiny as he moved to grab his halberd.
“Yes, I did notice that.” said Fal as he stood feet apart sword in hand.
“Kraken don’t belong on a ship,” said Tiny as he moved gingerly towards the beast.
“Flam Kal Des Ylem!” yelled Ash from behind the two men. Balls of fire leapt from her fingers and began striking the great beast. It roared in pain from a mouth not seen, as a bolt of lightning shot from it striking inches from Ash.
“Now! While it’s distracted by Ash!” Screamed Fal as he charged with his sword slashing at the tentacles. Both men plunged they’re weapons deep into the base of the creature and again it roared.
A tentacle slithered across the deck and grabbed Falstaff by the leg. He yelped in pain as needles dug into his leg. With all his strength he slashed at the slimy tentacle hoping to cut it.
Tiny charged to his guild master’s side and drove his halberd down hard on the attacking appendage. There was another roar, and the Kraken released its prey. In that same instant static filled the air and another bolt of lightening struck the deck where Hall had stood only seconds before.
“I can use lightening too monster,” hissed Ash. “Vas Ort Grav!” Lightening then shot form Ash’s hands and struck the beast in its center. Fire began to lick up its base. It let out a tortured scream and tentacles began to thrash back and forth battering the small ship.
“Vas Ort Grav!” Ash cried again. This time after the lightening there was the distinct smell of burning flesh. With a final roar the Kraken released its hold and began to sink into the sea. Black oily grease drifted to the surface and clung to the top of the water.
Falstaff sheathed his sword and moved to his wife. “I think that finishes up our fishing trip. Is everyone alright.”
“I’m fine” said Ash as she sat on a bench. “Just drained. Let’s not do that again for a while.”
“Your wish is my command fair Lady.” Replied Fal a smile creeping across his face.
“Never seen a Kraken this close to port before,” said Tiny as he began prepping the ship for full sail. “Don’t seem natural.”
“I’d say nothing about that damn monster was natural,” growled Falstaff “Tiny, we’re going home.”
“Aye” replied the man with a smile as he moved to the helm. “Just another day at sea my friends. You really should get off land more often.”
Falstaff looked after the man with a smile. “You may keep the sea, I think. I enjoy the breath of a dragon more than any of your sea beast any day.”
Falstaff sat holding Ash as the two looked out into the vast sea and waited for home.
“I fought a Kraken once,” came a voice from the back of the inn. Everyone turned to the new voice and found a small skinny man with arms near skin and bone. He smiled meekly as he realized he had the rooms attention. “Well, me uncle did.”
The room burst into laughter. Even Valant, who never seemed to laugh in his senior years, felt his belly rumble with amusement. It took several minutes for the room to settle down.
“While Falstaff was enjoying the sea life Falon and Draco were moving closer to the court.”
Draco and Falon had split from the rest of the men at daybreak, Valcor deciding that the bigger group would draw any following Orcs away. The Lady Shanna rode between the two knights. For some time, no one spoke till finally the Lady broke the silence. “It has been a long time since you were in the royal court Sir Falon.”
“Yes, it has my lady and please call me Falon.”
“Then you must call me Shanna, as we did when we were children.” She said with a smile.
“Children?” said Draco from the back of the group. “You two know each other?”
Falon looked to the ground and did not speak so Shanna again broke the silence. “We used to play together when we were children. Until Falon left that is.”
“I knew you were around the court my boy, but you never said you grew up there.” Draco rode up to be alongside Shanna. “Was he always so boring?”
Falon shot them both a look of daggers but still did not speak.
Shanna giggled “Oh no, he was very talkative. And always in some kind of trouble with the nannies.”
Draco roared with laughter. “He still gets in trouble with the ladies.”
“How is your mother, Lady Cylia?” Falon interjected in an attempt to save some of his dignity.
Shanna winked at Draco, “Oh she is very well. She will be so pleased to see you. She tries to follow your pursuits in the guild.”
“It will be nice to see her as well.” Said Falon from a distance.
“Tell me, why is Lord Valcor not riding with us?” asked Shanna.
“He must bury our dead.” Returned Falon coldly.
“And he’s a strange one our Valcor,” added Draco. Falon turned in his saddle and glared towards him. “What?” asked Draco bewildered. “Tis true. Valcor has sworn himself to protect Brit yet he very rarely goes there. And as far as the court goes, he’d rather cut his own throat than go. Not that he would use our brothers as an excuse mind you.” Draco said waving a finger at the Lady. “The guild will always come first for him.”
“He is quite the hero around town.” Said Lady Shanna. “The serfs say he could be lord British reborn.”
“He is a man sworn to the virtues. As we all are in the guild.” Replied Falon. “Is Gadin still with you?” he asked changing the subject.
“Oh yes, you know he will never leave me until the day I am wed. They say that on that day he will be given the chance to retire and live out his days as a noble in the castle.” She said smiling.
Falon shifted in the saddle before asking, “Are you still to wed Prince Sador of Nujel’m?”
It was Shanna’s turn to look sadly at the ground. “I was to set sail the day after I was taken. I will probably leave as soon as we get home.”
“Sail?” Asked Draco. “Do those fools in Nujel’m still fear magic?”
“They have loosened some of the laws but yes. Magic is still frowned upon.”
“Bah, they fear what they do not understand as do most. But why would they make their future Queen, one born from the blood of Lord British, ride on the dangerous seas? Draco stopped his horse and looked at the Lady for several moments. “If you ask me, they show disrespect for you and our homeland my Lady. You should not be wed to the likes of that.”
Shanna smiled at Draco, “Oh it is alright. The Prince has long pushed for the return of magic to his lands, but the elders still will not yield totally. It is hoped that by our joining of the two lands perhaps I can bring the magic of Brit with me. I am only sailing to show respect to their ancient ways. I have not been asked to give up the ways of magic. Only to try and respect Nujelhm’s ways.”
“If you ask me Lady,” growled Draco “You should be wed to one from your homelands not some foreign prince.”
“Ah but by doing this it is hoped that we can form a lasting bond between the two lands, and each will help the other.”
“That’s what the diplomats are for. Someone of your beauty should be honored by wedding a true Knight. Take my young friend Falon there.” At Draco’s comment both Lady Shanna and Falon’s faces turned a deep red. Neither spoke for several moments before Falon grunted and spurred his horse well ahead of the others. “And what the bloody hell is wrong with him?”
Lady Shanna watched Falon ride off as a tear crossed her cheek. “Sometimes Sir Draco we must do our duty no matter where our hearts may be. All we can hope is that the person that holds our heart can somehow understand.”
“You speak of things I understand not I’m afraid. I have lived the ways of the sword for far too long my Lady. Matters of the heart are for those younger than I,” said Draco.
“Well I’m sorry for you then Draco. For without one told hold your love no one is ever complete.” Both fell into silence as they rode through the noon day.
At night fall the three made their camp near a small lake in a low valley. After a dinner of rabbit courtesy of Draco, they sat quietly and watched the moon rise over the lake. After deciding that Falon would stand first watch Draco moved to his bedroll and was quickly snoring so loud that animals in the forest stopped singing.
Lady Shanna sat next to the fire wrapped in a blanket watching the sleeping man. “He is a very happy fellow.”
“He is rather jolly I agree.” Said Falon from across the fire.
“So how have you been Falon, really?” asked the lady
Falon shifted uncomfortably. “I have fared well all things considered.”
“Tell me do you regret things?”
“Regret?” Falon seemed to roll his tongue through his mouth as if tasting a fine wine. “No. I regret nothing. My choice that day has served me well. I no longer live under the curtain of the Royal Court and because of that I have gained a respect that I would have never known otherwise.”
“But to forsake it all. There are many knights in the Court.”
Falon stood and glared at the Lady across the fire. “Those men wear the title of Knight as if it were a crown. They know nothing of true knighthood. Of the virtues that Lord British himself created after he lived through each.” Falon moved closer to the woman, and she could see the fervor that burned in his eyes. “By leaving the court I have lived each of the virtues and proved myself as a knight. I’ve waded through the blood to find my true family in the Knights of Day. And I did not just leave the court. Or have you forgotten so quickly.”
Lady Shanna suddenly stood as anger flared in her too. “How dare you! You speak of honor and virtues as if no one in the courts could understand them. Well, I do and I live with them every day. I did not force you to leave. You made that choice yourself.”
“After you refused to listen to your heart! I asked you to come with me.”
“If I listened to my heart, I would have caused war and you know that. At my birth my marriage was arranged. I loved you just as you loved me, but I could not live with the disgrace it would bring if I fled from my duty.” “Lady Shanna returned to the ground and began to weep into her blanket.
Falon stood silent for several moments and watched her. “It was a long time ago. We were both young. You are no longer in my heart. I shall do as the guild orders and nothing more.” Falon turned and began walking towards the lake. “What was between us has passed. Do not speak of it again nor expect my favor because of it.” And with that he was gone.
When the three reached the Brit, word spread like fire that the Lady Shanna had been rescued by the Knights of Day. Guards quickly arrived at the gates to lead them straight to the Royal Court. As they arrived at the entrance to Lord British’s Castle a crowd had gathered and was cheering the Lady’s return.
“I see you are still loved by the people my Lady,” yelled Falon to be heard over the crowd. If the Lady had heard him, she made no reply but rode through without a word.
Inside stable boys were waiting to take their steeds and shuttle them quickly away. Also waiting was the Royal Courts messenger. He bowed deeply to Lady Shanna and began to turn ignoring the two knights until he saw Falon. Again, he bowed and bid they follow.
“Egad I knew there was a reason I never was asked to come to the court,” growled Draco as he fell in behind.
The Royal Council had been in place since the great king’s disappearance. Nine members who could trace their blood back through the thrown sat on the council. It was their job to run the kingdom in the king’s absence. The idea was to avoid infighting for the crown and it had worked for a time. But as the years went by and still Lord British did not return the council had lost control of several lands and now fought and planned against each other all for the throne.
A large table had been placed in the king’s throne room to accommodate the Council. Statues of gold and silver surround the room with its velvet tapestry and fine carpets. Falon took in the beauty and felt renewed. Since he was a small child the throne room had been his favorite place. Its beauty and mystic. On more than one occasion he had been caught almost in the king’s throne. Luckily, he had never managed it for he would have been flogged, royalty or not.
Falon drifted back to the happy times of his childhood but as was usual, his voyage was stopped by the rude sounds of his distant cousins. Nothing more than bullies who told him he was so thin of royal blood he deserved the kitchen and nothing else. And when his father, Duke Rochise, had died, he was treated as an outcast. That is until Lady Shanna’s Mother had come to his aide and taken him in as her own. He had truly enjoyed those times, until he had left. Left to become the man he was now.
And he had no regrets he thought as his eyes roamed the room before stopping on the Lady Cylia. “My daughter you have returned to us alive. Thank the gods.” She said as she hugged her daughter. “And you have brought the lost son home as well.” Cylia smiled as she moved to stand next to Falon. She seemed to look him through and through before speaking. “Sir Falon, welcome home.” She said with a curtsy.
Falon bowed and kissed Cylia’s outstretched hand. “You look as beautiful as always Lady Cylia.”
“And you are as charming as ever.” Said Cylia as she turned to face Draco who was gazing at the food table with obvious hunger. “Don’t be rude Falon. Who is this gallant knight you have brought with you?” At her words Draco was startled and feebly ran his hands through his grease thickened hair.
“I apologize my lady,” said Falon smiling at his friend. “Sir Draco also of the Knights of Day.”
“Madame” said Draco as he bowed deeply before her.
“Draco, I have heard of you. Are you the same Draco that rides as the second to Lord Valcor?”
Falon thought Draco would swell up and explode the way his chest puffed as he straightened himself. “I am one and the same Lady. Would you like to hear of my journeys with the Lord?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful Sir Knight. Could you join us for dinner and tell your tales? I would so enjoy them.” Lady Cylia turned to Falon and grabbed him by his arm. “As for now I must pull Falon away. Please indulge in the dinner and we shall be back in a moment.” And with that she pulled Falon outside onto one of the balconies.
“The court is pleased that your guild has returned Lady Shanna. And I am pleased that in doing so they have returned my adopted son as well.” Cylia said smiling.
Falon looked downcast and thought for a moment about what words he would speak next. “I cannot stay. I belong with my guild.”
At this Cylia laughed. “And do you think I would ask you to come back into the court after your absence over the years? I am just glad to see you. After all you never returned any of the letters I sent, once I found out where you were that is.” She scolded
“I feared you would try to make me return.”
“Do you think me so blind that I did not see what was happening with you and Shanna. Or those overbearing oafs you have for cousins. I grieved for you while you were here for, I knew, that one day the pain would come with her departure. When you left, I knew you were escaping the cage that your heart was trying to put you in.” Falon turned and looked out over the courtyard.
“That is the past.” He whispered.
“So it is,” Cylia said taking his hand and turning him to face her. “We have other business. Where is your Guild Master? I would like to thank you all properly.”
“Lord Falstaff is away from the land for supplies. Lord Valcor led the rescue, but he could not be here. He sends his regards.”
“That man confounds me. On more than one occasion he has been invited here and always he has found a way out. I would sorely like to meet the man behind this legend.”
“My lady he has meant no disrespect and this time it is the dead of the guild that he is tending.”
“I’m sorry Falon. It’s just that I wished to speak to him about Lady Shanna.”
“My Lady?” asked Falon.
Cylia glanced around before speaking, “She is in grave danger of this I know. Those Orcs were no accident and there have been others.”
“Why would anyone be after Shanna?”
“This I do not know. But there is a rumor of a brother to the King of Nujelm who is plotting against him.”
“And where does my guild come into this Lady?”
Again, Cylia looked around to insure no one was watching. “I am asking the Court to petition your guild. I want you and Lord Valcor to escort my daughter to Nujehlm.”
Falon could feel his anger rising. “You assume too much. I won’t do that”
“Don’t take that tone with me.” Hissed Lady Cylia. “I shall ask this, and your guild will do it. Or they will insult the Court. I doubt your Guild Master would like to lose the favor of the court.”
“Why would you do this?”
“Because I can.” She growled. “Listen to me Falon. I trust you and the court trust Valcor. See to it that Shanna makes it to her wedding. If you truly have gave up your feelings on her then you will care not about this. And if you do still have feelings then I ask you to put them aside so she may do her duty just as I ask that you do yours and protect her.”
Falon stood silent for several moments. “I shall do it but understand this. I owe you nothing and I shall never step foot inside this castle again.” With that Falon turned and stormed back into the Throne room leaving the Lady Cylia standing alone.
“What kind of crap is that” roared a drunkard from the back of the room. “I want to hear of battles not the courts messy business.”
Valant stood and his hand slid to the worn hilt of his sword. “You have as much patience as a child. These are the tales of my guild not some cheap entertainment for a drunken buffoon.”
The man stood and the room went silent. He was nearly a head taller than Valant and probably half his age. He took a long gulp from his mug and then slammed it onto a table. “You know old man, I’m about done with you and story time.” The man began a slow walk towards the old knight.
“Gentlemen please” shouted Gaylon. He was trying to push his way between the approaching onslaught but none of the spectators moved. He was helpless to watch as his free entertainment was about to be beat to a pulp.
Valant stood starring at the younger man. Not a muscle flinched, or a hair bristled. His hand unwavering on his sword. That’s when the hulking giants drink clouded mind told him something was wrong and maybe he should rethink this.
The two were only a few steps apart when the knight struck. His foot moved like a snake and caught the younger man in the knee cap. There was a vicious snapping sound and scream of pain. As the man began to fall clutching his knee Valant drew his sword and drove the hilt hard into the man’s chin. Like a tree falling in the woods, the man crashed to the floor with a moan. He lay there motionless as Valant stood over him. Fire light danced across the polished blade which most, up till now, had assumed was only for ceremony.
“I will not be interrupted or told how to tell this tale.” Valant slowly slid the blade back into its scabbard. “Gaylon, I think you have garbage to take out. As for the rest of you,” Valant turned around the room. “If you wish to hear more, come back tomorrow. Bring this oaf if he cares to hear more, I care not.” Then before everyone’s eyes Valant was once more the frail looking knight as he shuffled for the stairs. “No more tonight but I have more to tell.”