Valant sat at the table chewing a turkey leg ignoring the crowd that jostled around him. Gaylon brought another mug of ale to the table. “Good crowd tonight my friend. Word spread fast about your ability with a sword.”
Valant only paused for a moment between bites. “Why wouldn’t I be good with a sword. Lived by it most of my life. Probably die by it mind you.”
Gaylon let out a laugh then thought better of it. “Of course, Valant. Old age will never take you. Shall we begin?”
Valant tossed the turkey leg to his plate as Gaylon waved the room to silence. “So, its more you want? The guild was busy honoring the lost souls from the raid…”
Valcor stood at the window watching the funeral priers burn into the night. He was thankful that the wind was not blowing his way so the stench of burning flesh did not reach him. His mood was somber and angry. He could still see the forms of the dead men laid out in the flames. Too many had died for the cause of one person.
He was so lost in his dark thoughts he failed to hear the knock at the door. It took twice more before he awoke from his thoughts and answered.
“Lord Valcor, Guild Master Falstaff has returned. He should be here within the hour. Also, Sir Falon and Sir Draco have sent word and will be arriving near nightfall.”
Valcor’s mood quickly worsened. Not because his friend and leader was returning home but because it was his duty to bear the news of the week’s events. “Tell the cook to prepare a fresh meal and see to it that his rooms are lighted and ready. And when the others return have them sent to me.”
“As you wish sire,” said the squire as he dashed from the room.
Valcor returned to the window and gazed into the night sky. “Evil is near I can smell it. Now if I could only find it.”
Valcor awoke a short while later to the sound of the door opening. Turning he found his friend Falstaff standing in the doorway. “Come in, it’s good to have you home.”
“I knocked twice but when you didn’t answer I became concerned.” Said Falstaff as he strode across the room to embrace Valcor. “It’s been too long my friend.”
“Aye, and much has happened while you were away.” Valcor began pouring wine as Falstaff sat at the small writing table.
“Falon told me of the battle. Sounds like you did well.”
“Falon should mind his own,” snapped Valcor as he sat down. “It was hard fought and yes we took our prize, but it cost us much.”
“You did as honor required. From what I hear you did even more than that.” Valcor looked to his friend confused. “They say you killed the Orc Lord Narthus. One blow from your axe was all it took.”
“I don’t know what you mean. I killed an Orc chopper in the fort, but I also meet an Orc claiming to be the new Leader. Sadly, he escaped.”
“That was not just an Orc chopper you big dolt it was Narthus. And this is the first I’ve heard of this new Lord. All I know is if we killed the old warlord they will scatter for a day or two. It will take time for them to gather all the tribes as Narthus did. No wonder the court is so pleased with you.”
“And why would you say the court is pleased with me?”
Falstaff began to smile as he sat his glass on the table. “They have requested the Knights of Day escort Lady Shanna to Nujel’m and you are to be in charge.”
Valcor sat dumfounded for several minutes before recovering. “Why me.”
“As I said the court has taken a liking to you.”
“There is something wrong with this Falstaff. Why would the court require an escort for the Lady when she has her own guard? And when was the last time you saw Orcs ride for three days and cut through the Brit mountain pass just to raid a bunch of farms. Then they only take one person, the lady Shanna. I tell you Fal there’s something wrong with all this.” Valcor had not realized it but he found himself up and pacing as he spoke. He finally returned to his seat where he found Falstaff sitting in thought.
“Your right. Things do not bode well here. But we have been asked by the court to do a task and we shall do as asked. If we are meant to become embroiled in Royal Court intrigue, then so be it.” Falstaff stood and made for the door. “Either way we leave in two days so be prepared.” And with that he was gone leaving Valcor alone with his thoughts.
The two days went much too quickly thought Valcor as he helped load the last of the supplies aboard the ship. He thought it odd that they would be sailing on a guild ship and not one of the Royal cruisers. The guild ships were much smaller and not as heavily armored. They also took less manpower to use. For this journey Falstaff had thought long and hard about whom was to attend. Valcor was required as was Falstaff, as guild master, he would be expected to oversee such an expedition. He also selected Falon much to Valcors dislike and he had sent word to Valcor’s wife Raest who was currently in Moonglow at the Mages academy. She would meet with them by the days end. Falstaff had requested that squires not attend but after some speaking at length it was agreed that Valcor’s adopted son Shock would also go.
Finally, the last guild member in attendance was sailor called tiny. His true name was unknown to Valcor, but his nickname was indeed a reflection of his appearance. The man was lucky if he stood above five feet. And his bones showed from beneath tight skin that was tanned dark from long days in the sun while at sea. There was no other sailor or fishermen around that could say they had sailed all the places Tiny had seen. It was said he had even navigated the rivers on the dark side in Fel. Valcor doubt the last because he had yet to meet anyone who had travel through the dark gates into the alternative world and returned sane. Most never returned at all. But Valcor did admit Tiny was indeed a mystery into itself.
Lady Shanna arrived at the pier just before noon as Tiny and Shock were just putting the last bundle of goods into the hull. She rode in a coach covered in gold and bearing the royal seal of Lord Britain who had disappeared long ago. His family still had managed to hold the reigns of royalty though sometimes with a clenched fist.
“Lady Shanna! Welcome to or humble vessel,” spouted Falstaff in his best court manner. “We are ready to depart and require only you.” He said with a bow.
“You must be Guild Master Falstaff?” Falstaff again bowed. “Allow me to introduce Gadin. He has been my personal guard since I was very young. He will be going with us, as long as that is not a problem.”
“Not a problem at all my Lady. Allow my men to get your things and we shall be going.”
As Lady Shanna boarded the ship, she saw Valcor sitting on the bow looking towards the ocean. Without hesitation she walked to him. “Lord Valcor may I speak to you?”
Valcor started at the voice and turned with some surprise to see Lady Shanna before him. “My Lady, of what service may I offer,” he said with a bow.
“Gadin please see that my room is prepared I would speak to Lord Valcor alone.” The large man dressed in the armor of a royal guard turned and disappeared below deck. After he was gone Lady Shanna turned back to Valcor. “I never had the chance to thank you for saving me at the fort. You and your men were very brave. I pray for those that were lost.”
“We did as duty and honor required; we ask for no more. But thank you for your prayers my lady, I’m sure it will help the men’s souls make a faster journey to peace.”
“Valcor there is another matter,” she hesitated for a moment and then went on. “I fear there is no one left to trust. My life is forfeit. Of this, I am sure.”
Valcor was taken back by the statement and began to argue before his own words from two nights before came to him. “You think the Orcs were only after you.”
The Lady smiled and sat on a barrel. “I don’t think, I know. You see a month ago only days after it was announced I was to be wed; Lord Carter was poisoned.”
“Yes, we heard of his untimely demise and assumed it was part of a court dispute.”
“As did most,” she said going on.
‘But what is not known to any, but a few is that on that night Lord Carter and I switched seats at the last instance so he could be closer to my mother.”
“So, the poison was for you then.” Valcor began nodding his head in some understanding. “But why would anyone not want you to wed?”
“I do not know. There is no gain of power by me wedding the Prince of Nujel’m. I do not create any unity between the kingdoms that is not already there. This is a part of the puzzle I have yet to solve.”
Valcor sat for several minutes thinking about what had been said. “Do you trust Gadin.”
“Of course, I do. The man has been my guardian since birth. We have spoken on these matters, and he believes me to have an overactive imagination.”
“Strange that a man sworn to you should act that way.”
Lady Shanna suddenly sat straighter, and her shoulders squared. “Don’t question his loyalty Lord Valcor. I only spoke of these things to make you aware of my fears. I am now done. Good day.” And with that Lady Shanna stood and walked to the stairs where she disappeared without a second look.
“You sure have a way with the ladies” said Tiny as he cast off the ship.
It was late in the day when Shock yelled that there was something heading towards them. All eyes looked to the West to see a dark cloud rolling across the sea. “Never seen nothing like it,” muttered Tiny from the helm. “Got to be magic.”
Raest had still not arrived and Valcor became concerned. If they were facing off against mages, he’d like to at least have one of his own. He again looked and could now tell that the sea under the ominous cloud churned. “Tiny have you ever seen the sea move like that?” he asked.
“I seen whales move the water like that once. But were not in whaling waters. Only thing out in these parts is Sea Serpents.”
“Not again” muttered Fal as he moved next to Valcor and looked through the spyglass. “If its serpents there are more than just one or two”.
“Serpents aren’t pack animals they wouldn’t come running together without some coaxing.” Yelled Tiny as the wind picked up making it hard to hear.
“Shock!” Yelled Falstaff to be heard. “Get below and tell the Lady to secure here portals and lock her door. I’m not sure what’s about to happen but it can’t be good. Where is that Mage wife of yours? We need her to fight these things.”
“We’ll have to make do without her.” Valcor said as he drew his axe and prepared for battle. “May the Gods smile upon us and guide our souls.”
“Don’t start praying to your war gods yet. We’re not totally out of the fight.” Returned Falstaff as he pulled his broadsword and readied himself.
All on the tiny ship could see the giant waves coming closer until finally they could spot the serpents. Long scaly creatures with bloated bodies and fins on each side. They’re necks loomed above the water like ancient oak trees. There were four in all which was to say there were four too many.
“Now do you believe me!” Shouted Lady Shanna to Valcor.
“Get below woman! Shock take her below!” Barked Valcor without turning to see if it was done. He found that his eyes were glued to the horrible sight before him. Only twice before had he fought sea serpents and both times he narrowly survived. Both of those times he had the help of a mage but there was no mage here now. He wondered if his wife would arrive to find only bodies floating on the water.
“Aim for their undersides!” Ordered Falstaff as the first one came to the boat and let loose a blast of lightning. The bolt struck the mast with an awful crack and the mast tumbled into the sea.
Valcor lunged with his axe and felt warm blood run across his hands. This may be easy after all, he thought. But as he pulled the axe from the beast it let out a roar that shook the very sea and then Valcor suddenly felt very ill.
“He’s been poisoned. Falon tend to him quickly.” Shouted Falstaff as he drove his own blade into the creature’s gut. “Tiny can you spear its head!”
Without a word the little man picked up a long harpoon and drove it straight up into the monsters jaws. It let out another roar and disappeared under the water. Blood immediately began to come to the surface and as if from instinct two of the serpents dove down to feast on their fellow’s misfortune. The last one however continued with a vengeance.
A fireball leapt from the creatures gaping mouth and just missed burning Falon to a crisp while he tended to Valcor. Shock Stabbed the serpent with all of his might nearly falling overboard. “Be careful boy. We don’t have time to be pulling you out right now,” said Tiny as he pulled the youth back onto his feet.
Suddenly the air was filled with the rushing sound of wind. All eyes turned towards the sky and found a massive body had covered the light. “Daemon!” Shouted Falstaff without need. All on board the ship knew what it was and that they were finished. On land with just a daemon maybe they could win but here on the sea with a serpent also, what chance did they have.
Much to the surprise of those on the ship lightening came from the daemons mighty paw and struck the serpent in the chest. The sea creature tumbled back into the water from the force of the blast but quickly rose again. As it did a dozen fireballs shot from its maw. The daemon took the fiery rain without even a bellow. It began moving through the air closing in on the serpent. When it was with arms reach it suddenly struck the serpent on top of its head driving it below water. When the creature tried to come up again the daemon launched a thunderous lightning bolt that drove into the top of its head.
The water began to settle and all around was the smell of burning flesh. No one took a breath as the Daemon hovered overhead. “I release thee!” came a voice and the daemon was gone.
All eyes stood staring at the place the daemon had been. It took several seconds to register that the beast was gone. “What just happened?” said Shock in disbelief.
“I just happened,” came a voice from behind them. Turning they saw a woman in a red cape wearing black leather armor. Her hair flowed from beneath a long-brimmed wizards hat. “And I would have to say it was a good thing that I happened when I did.”
“Raest!” said Shock in excitement. “Valor’s been hurt.”
Without another word the mage ran to her husband who lay on the deck shaking. “Damn the beast poisoned him.” She hissed as she placed her hands across his hart. “An Nox, In Vas Mani!” The air around them both began to spin with an ire greenish glow. It lasted only seconds and was gone. Valcor took a deep breath and then lay still on the deck. Slowly he began to breath normally. “It will take him a day or so to be fully healed. He was near death.”
“The lady has been injured!” came a booming from below as Gadin emerged holding the Lady Shanna. Both looked like drowned rats. “The lightning has cut a hole in the ship. We were both knocked unconscious.”
“Shock carry Val. Raest can you gate us to the closest land?” asked Fal as he and Falon moved to look over the Lady.
“Serpents Hold would be the closest I’m afraid.” And with no other word she began to weave the difficult spell of gate traveling.
“You cannot take the Lady to that den of thieves.” Growled Gadin.
“Unless you have a rune to Nujel’m I see no other choice. Besides we stand a good chance of locating a ship there.” Suddenly there was a ripping sound a blue oval appeared in the center of the deck. All right through the portal quickly. Raest cannot hold this long.” Fal ran to help Shock with Valcor as Falon dove through the portal. Gadin hesitated only a moment before he too vanished. Raest stood only long enough to ensure that all made it through then she too left the sinking vessel to settle into the sea as the other two serpents began circling. The last Raest saw was a serpent sliding across the deck and then the gate closed.
“And so, the knights escaped with their lives, but only just. The Lady Shanna was still being hunted and evil was lurking around the corner as they gated to Serpents Hold.” Valant drew a long sip from his ale and looked around the room. “That my friends is all for tonight. I grow weary. But the tales not over for those behind these evil plots is yet to be revealed. Safe travels my friends.”