Eight

Eight

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin and Applemint are trapped in a strange sub-world where there is only one way out.

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8.

Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.

--Blaise Pascal

 

 

They were riding on a horse - possibly Thallow- across a well manicured lawn of immense size.   The field had colorful tents set up all around and Gevin knew it had to be some sort of tournament or courtly festival.   Ahead, at the end of the field was a combat arena for knightly tournaments, including a jousting area with a grandstand and a small amphitheater for single combat events.   

He was wearing the same black armor that he’d donned earlier, and in front of him in the saddle, Applemint was dressed like a squire.  Her long red hair was neatly braided and pinned up and she wore a floppy green hat over it.   She was glancing around,as amazed as he was.   She turned back to him and spoke.

“Sir Gevin, pirthee what sorcery is before us?  The forest hast vanished and a new fair visage is before us.   Alas!  Methinks something hast corrupted my speech, for the words formed by my lips differ completely from that which I speaketh!   What devilry can this be?”

“I know not, m’lady,” he replied, surprised to find that he was using the same high courtly language, though he had not consciously formed his words that way, “My speech also seemeth affected.   ‘Tis a mystery, but yonder castle beyond this long lawn will perchance provideth answers.  Trust not what thou beholdeth with thine eyes, nor what thou heareth with thine ears; remember the diverse ways we were tricked and deceived in the great woods.”

“Perhaps we dreameth this ordeal?”

“Perchance, yet patience is warranted until answers are provided.”

“Aye, m’Lord,” She replied, turning around and glancing at him for a moment before returning to take in the many sights around them.

Although the tourney field was a sea of tents, they passed through it without seeing anyone, at least until they reached the outer gates of the castle.    Two guards stood at both sides of the entrance, but their facial features seemed to be lost in shadows or maybe they were just lacking; neither Gevin nor Applemint could tell, though they moved slightly as they rode through.

“They seemeth more shadows than substance,”  Gevin said after they passed, though his words came out differently than those he had formed.   At least the sentiment and overall meaning was the same.

“M’lord, is this steed Thallow, or some illusion?”  The girl asked, glancing down at the head of the horse.

“None of this could be real, methinks.   This is to represent him, perchance for our benefit.  Magic can do these things.”

“Ahead there be people, m’lord.   I heareth them and seeth their forms, but vague they seem and indistinct.   I wonder if any living thing actually liveth in this place?”

Before he could respond, they were passing through crowds of people on each side of them that seemed very excited to see them, though they made no attempt to impede their progress.    The horse carried them without any directional guidance, through another gate and into the open bailey of the heart of the castle.    At the other end of the cobblestone court were a series of stairs leading up to the keep.   Twin doors were open and trumpeters flanking the doors gave out a regal blast as they crossed to the stairs.

There the horse stopped and from out of nowhere, two groomsmen appeared, taking the reins from Gevin and standing ready to take command of his horse as soon as they dismounted.

“Our ride hast ended, m’lady,” he said to Applemint, though the phraseology was different in his mind.

He dismounted first and helped her down.   She was dressed in black and red clothing that matched his armor and he noticed the emblem on her tunic - A black raven outlined in silver, standing on a blood red rock.   It was his personal device.

He stood her on the ground and without a word, the groomsmen left with their horse.  

“Shall we not go forth unto the court up yonder stairs?”  Apple asked, seeming amused at the words she’d just uttered.

“We shall,”  He replied and together they mounted the stairs.  

 

Gevin and Applemint only paused a moment before the large open doors, to quickly survey what awaited them.   It was a grand audience hall, almost cathedral like in size with huge ornate windows and grayish white stone walls and floor.    It looked as if it would have easily accommodated a thousand dinner guests or dancers at once.

Gevin glanced at one of the two trumpeters that stood at attention on either side of the door as they passed through.    His features were fuzzy, like someone seen at a great distance or in very dim light.   It was a strange sight, for his fancy courtier clothing and trumpet were clear and sharply focused, but anything that would have given him a specific identity seemed to have some sort of magical ‘fog’ that just gave enough of his face for you to see that he was a man, but not identify him as anyone specific.

Shaking the strangeness off after the sight, he glanced to Applemint, who seemed to be examining the crowd of people lining both halves of the room as they proceeded down a center aisle covered by a blood red carpet.   She glanced back at him, her facial expression revealing her uneasiness at finding that all those on either side of them as they passed had the same blurred out facial features.     These ‘shadow people’ (as Gevin thought of them) moved slightly as they passed and each was dressed differently, but all wore clothing typical of knights at ease in the court of their king or lord.    They all seemed to be men of various sizes, though nothing gave them any individuality. 

All of the shadowy knights wore swords at their belts, and he sensed that they were curiously watching them as they walked the length of the room, yet none of them were distinct enough to remember.   He could hear murmurs from them, and even this was distorted and vague, as if he was hearing a group of people speaking from behind a wall, a distance away.

He felt Applemint touch his forearm and when he looked at her, she nodded straight ahead to the dais at the end of the room.     A majestic ornate throne was in the center of the dais and three steps led up to the platform.    To one side of the regal throne was a lesser throne, one perhaps suitable for a young prince, compared to the royal dimensions of the larger one.

On the larger throne sat a large man of early middle age, with distinct features, unlike the others in the room, and he sat there with his meaty hands gripping the arms of his throne, watching them with the intensity of a lion.   He had a slight smile on his face that seemed to be more of a sneer or smirk and he wore regal purple clothing.   A ducal coronet was on his brow, slightly cockeyed, and his shortly shorn hair hinted that he might be a soldier or knight.

The lesser throne seemed to be carved from onyx and upon it was a figure even more intriguing than the man on the ducal throne.   She seemed to be right out of some of the dark fables told around campfires and in great halls in the middle of the depths of winter.   She was slender, yet shapely, her form extremely feminine and sensual, covered in a fairytale suit of grayish black ‘armor’ that did more to accent her sexuality than actually offer protection.   She sat sideways on the throne like a rebellious teenager, her long legs dangling over one of the armrests of the throne.   Her skin was jet black, but her long flowing hair was a fantastic sliver white and fell nearly to her feet.   Under white eyelashes a pair of slightly glowing red bedroom eyes watched them approach with a mildly amused, lazy interest.   She had sharply pointed ears and deep purple lips that matched her long fingernails.   Hovering over one graceful hand was a blue arcane ball of light, sputtering with flickers of lightning like electricity as she nonchalantly made it dip and twirl.    Her other hand supported her chin in a restless, bored pose and she wore some sort of silver diadem or headpiece that outlined the great (but somewhat sinister) beauty of her Elven face.    

She had to be a Drow, one of the underground dwelling dark Elves of myth, though she seemed certainly real right now.   Their race had vanished eons ago, if they ever existed at all, yet here she was, gauging them as they approached like a sleek black panther looking approvingly at what soon would be her dinner.

Applemint moved a bit closer to him as they reached the bottom step of the dais and glanced up at the pair.

Remembering courtly etiquette, even though he suspected that all of this was simply another illusion generated by the magic of the great forest,  Gevin dipped down on one knee and bowed his head, which Applemint mimicked, removing her hat as she did.

“You may rise,”  A deep, almost growling voice commanded and they stood, glancing up the dais at the huge man who sat there so menacingly.  

“Who are you?”  The big man asked Gevin.

“Sir Gevin, of Greidour, Your Grace.”

“Thou hast a girl-child as a squire?   What shame is upon you, sir knight!”  He chuckled rather rudely and the sound did little to dispel his brutishness.

“M’lord, she be not my squire, nor a child.    I present Applemint Pondertort, a Halfling woman whose family serveth me.”

“Fair she is, though too small for tastes such as mine,”  he snorted, seeming to lack any sort of true courtly manners.

“M’lord, we know not where we have come, nor the means how we cameth here.”

The Drow lady shifted slightly in her chair and flicked her hand, dispelling the ball of light, “I tire of this courtly speech.”

She mumbled some unknown words and made a few gestures in the air, there was a soft flash of orange light that faded quickly and then she smiled, “There!  Now we may all speak normally; do not despair Lord Savel, I will restore it when you demand it.”

“Yes, you will, Zaeya,” The big man lightly threatened, with a domineering glance.   Gevin noticed that the Drow lady did not seem too intimidated, but shrugged slightly in submission.

The man turned back to Gevin, “I am Lord Savel, Duke of this land.  This is my castle and you are now my prisoners.”

“Prisoner?” Gevin glanced at Applemint who looked even more uneasy at Lord Savel’s proclamation.  His impression of the duke was rapidly deteriorating.  

The brutish man laughed heartily, the sound rattling the hall with its sound.

“You think that you might escape?   There is but one way out of this hell, sir knight, and that is by defeating me in one to one combat.   You will find no other way, though of course you are free to try.    Many, such as Lady Zaeya here, have tried to assassinate me.    How many times have you tried, my dear?   Twenty?  Thirty?   At least ten times by poisoning alone!”

He laughed as if it was the most amusing admission imaginable.    The Drow lady sank back into her throne, rolling her eyes in disgust and annoyance, “Thirty two, I think, Savel; one does lose count.”

She turned to Gevin, “He is telling you the truth, though; there is absolutely no way out of here except to kill him in something approaching your own knightly tournaments.    Hundreds have tried, none have succeeded.”

Gevin frowned, “We did not come here to challenge anyone, Lady Zaeya.  We entered the forest and…lost our way.”

Both the Drow woman and the huge duke laughed together.

“Oh, we haven’t heard that tale before!”  Zaeya said, her red eyes sparkling, “In fact, you entered the forest searching for a great gate.  Lately those who come here tell us that the gate is a sphere of annihilation and those seeking it are either hoping to cast something -or someone- within it, or are suicidal.   But time flows differently here than it does even in the great forest, so who knows how many years or centuries have passed?  So tell us, Sir Gevin; were you going to toss the Halfling girl inside or perhaps you were tired of life.   Eternity is a torment for those of Elven blood and there is the certain air of a mixed breed about you.”

“My business with the Nihility Gate does not concern you, lady, nor does it your Lord.”  He replied, growing more and more indignant.  

“Oh, he’s not my Lord, sir knight; I’m a prisoner here just like you are, but he can’t kill me, any more than he can your little half size friend there.”

“Silence!”  Lord Savel growled, slamming the palm of his hand down against the armrest of his throne, which sent an echoing boom reverberating around the room.

Zaeya sighed and held up her hand in acquiescence, then pulled out a pouch from the side of her throne and began rummaging through it, looking for something and ignoring the new visitors as well as Lord Savel.

“She knows her place!” Savel growled.   There was something about him that hinted at something concealed, as if perhaps he wasn’t what he seemed to be.    He looked down at Gevin and then, with a slightly disgusted sneer, at Applemint, before glancing back to Gevin, “You have a squire that is a woman…a small woman…rather fetching, but certainly too small for me to enjoy as a woman.”

“You worthless maggot, you will die before you ever lay one finger upon her,”  Gevin snapped, disgusted rage rising as he angrily met the brute’s burning gaze.

“I’ll wring your neck, half-breed and savor eating your bones!” the duke roared, leaning forward on his throne.

In a flash, Gevin had unsheathed the sword that he’d pulled from the trunk of the animated tree.    As soon as the tip of the blade left the scabbard, it began glowing with such a brilliant white light that nothing else could be seen.    Faint screeches and moans came from all around them and from somewhere in front of him came Lord Savel’s mocking laughter.

“Tomorrow, half-breed!   On the tourney field, evenly matched!  I shall play fairly, though not for your sake, of course!    You have a mighty weapon and wear the prophesized black armor, but you’ll need far more to kill me!   Tomorrow, half-breed!  Do not try to enter my castle, there are wards much too powerful that will prevent it.    All must follow the rules, and you will certainly die by them!   Tomorrow, Half-Elf; prepare yourself for your doom!”

Booming laughter echoed around and slowly faded, along with the light generated by the sword, until Gevin could once again see.

 

Everything had changed; he was no longer in the great hall but seemed to be in a large round tent of the style used by knights camped out on the field before a large tournament.  For a few moments his eyes had to fight away the after-images of the great light, but as he glanced around, he quickly realized that Applemint wasn’t there.

“Apple?”  He called in alarm, horrified that she might have somehow been taken by Lord Savel.   He rushed toward the flap of the tent but just as he reached for it, a figure slipped through.   It wasn’t the Halfling girl but the tall dark figure of Lady Zaeya, who now wore a long silken purple gown of such sheer material that little was left for the imagination.

“Going someplace?’  She asked in a sultry voice while entering as if it were her tent.

“Where’s Applemint?” he growled, his hand on the hilt of his sword, but the Drow lady did not answer.   She flowed past him to a portable camping cot in one corner and with the rustle of purple silk reclined elegantly upon it, her red eyes carefully watching him.

“She’s safe,”  she finally answered his question, “All squires can stay with their lords for a tourney, but she is a woman and the damned magic that rules in this place insists that all women are helpless damsels, so they are placed in the women’s quarters.    Don’t worry, Savel won’t bother her… not until after he’s killed you, at least.   But even then he can’t do much to her.  He’s bound by the structure of the magic of this place.”

“What is this place anyway and who - and what- are you?”  Gevin asked impatiently, keeping his distance from the seductive Dark Elf.

“I’ll answer your questions in reverse.   I am Zaeya D’Teodrythan of noble house Teodrythan, though that won’t mean anything to you as a surface dweller.   I’m a Drow, which, by the curious and slightly uneasy expression on your face, indicates to me that you have only heard of my people in legend.   Time flows much differently in the great forest and much differently here in Lord Savel’s realm, so it is difficult to know how much time has passed.   I’ve calculated that I’ve been here - in this time frame- about 20 years, but outside of the great forest, two thousand years have passed…at least I believe.”

Gevin looked at her with skepticism, “There are no Drow that I know of and Elves are extremely rare in my world.”

“Apparently not so rare as to produce a Half-Elf such as yourself.”

He shrugged, not convinced that she wasn’t just another illusion of the forest, “Tell me about this place - we were drinking from a stream and suddenly we were riding across the manicured lawn filled with tourney tents.”

Zaeya nodded, smiling as if she’d heard the same thing many times, “The stream water acts as a portal to here.    You were looking for the death gate, were you not?”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps nothing!” she smiled, which was somehow fetching and sinister at the same time, “Your reasons don’t concern me.   Everyone who comes here was looking for the gate, but for different reasons.”

“And what was yours?”

“I was trying to find a portal back home to the Underdark.”

“And you were lost in the forest?”

“I was part of a raiding party against the Faesidhe…you’ve never heard of them…but it went very bad and we were nearly all killed.   I had magic that detects transfer portals and I knew there was at least one in the forest…somewhere.   I’ll spare you all the tales of my trials and tribulations, but I drank water from the stream and came here.”

“And just where is ‘here’?”

“Who knows for sure?   It’s a para-dimensional, timeless, arcane structured reality and the exit is only through achievement of a specific goal.   Whoever set up this magic place was very powerful.    The gate you were looking for is here in this place, Gevin.”

“Here?   But where?  I don’t see any portal?”

“That’s the catch -  it is obtainable only upon the death of the lord of this place, which currently is Lord Savel.”

“Currently?”

“Yes, there were…seven, I think he told me…before he took charge.   He’s held it since I’ve been here and he’s undefeated.   You see, the way that the magic in this place is set up, to gain access to the death gate, you have to defeat the current lord in single combat.   But there are rules that must be followed, or nothing progresses as you want.   First, all combat has to be one on one.   Savel can’t be assassinated or poisoned; if you try, he ‘dies’ momentarily and then is restored in the blink of an eye in perfect health.   I have enjoyed trying, however!   You can’t leave this place without his death.   Savel was told prophesies when he first came here that his doom would come by the might of a ‘black knight wielding a sword like the sun’ which sounds a lot like you.”

“Only men can battle him, and only by a type of tourney combat -jousting or one on one with weapons.    Magic can’t be used against him, except for the magic found in weapons.    If a group comes in, only one man from that group can fight him.    If that man loses, then the other men become slaves here, but Savel doesn’t like that, so he just kills them and eats them and they can’t kill him because only death in battle will stop him.”

“He eats them?!”

“Oh yes; you see, he is an Ogre - though you won’t behold his true form until tomorrow.  He is fond of meat and has eaten everyone he’s defeated in battle as well as their male servants or squires.    Now women are different, to his chagrin.   The magic of this place prevents him from killing or harming a woman, and that also prevents him from raping them but he can mentally abuse them and terrorize them.    Women can’t challenge him in battle and can’t access the death gate with him still alive.   There are 23 women living here now that were companions of men who came here with them and have remained behind.”

“Are they cared for?”

“Yes, the magic of this place generates food and items they need.   Savel has a ‘harem’ of these women in the castle.   That is where your Halfling girl went.  She’ll be alright, if you are worried about her.”

“So why are you given a throne and allowed to wander around?”

“Because I came through alone and therefore I had no male champion to contend with him.    So it was sort of a stalemate and I have a different status, since I was not part of a defeated party, but I also cannot challenge Savel.   I’ve lived here like a ‘queen’ to his status of ‘king’, though I will be forever trapped here until he is killed.”

“Yet you have magic?”

“Oh yes, I am a powerful sorceress, but I cannot overwhelm the magic that set up this place or alter it.    So I just wait around until someone arrives that can kill Savel.   Once he is dead, all the women here will be able to go through the Restoration Pool.”

“What is that?”

“There are two ways out of here, Gevin; both only accessed once the current lord is dead.   One is said to be a portal through a pool of clear water, and the other is the dreaded death gate, which is said to be a portal to complete and utter destruction.    Those who go into the Restoration Gate will appear outside the forest, it is said, at the exact point of time that the champion that successfully killed Savel - or whoever is lord of this place at the time of his death-  originally entered the great forest.”

“So you are saying that if I kill Savel, you and all the women - including Applemint- will be able to get out of this forest?”

“Yes, and they will appear at the exact point of time and space that you entered the forest with no time having passed from their perspective, from when you first crossed over into it.    That is what the legends say.”

“Then who will become the new master of this place?”

Zaeya smiled slightly, “Why, you will, if you were the one who killed Savel.”

“So I would become trapped here?”

“Unless you chose to pass through the death gate - that option is always available to the champion of this place, but if they do, all who are captives here at the time will die.   If Savel decided right now that he was sick of this place and wanted to die, and he passed through the death gate, then all of us here - you and me included- would die.”

“But if there was a new champion, and he set free all the captive women, and they passed through that pool you mentioned, leaving him all alone, couldn’t he pass through the ‘death gate’ and simply put an end to this whole thing?”

“If he was willing to sacrifice his life for it, yes, but who would be willing to do such a stupid thing?   There is said to be writing carved around the portal of the death gate that reads, translated into the common tongue, ‘Your death, my life’.   Savel thinks it means he has to kill all the males who come through the gate after he has defeated their champion so his life will be safe, even though he knows these other males cannot harm him.   I’m not sure exactly what it means, as I’ve never actually seen the gate or the pool.    At any rate, your victory against Savel will save your Halfling and all the women captives here, as well as save you from dying, but you will simply take Savel’s place as Lord.”

“And the curse continues.”  Gevin said with a frown.

“Yes.”

“Unless I pass through the Nihility Gate.”

“Is that what you call it?   Yes, I suppose so; but do you really want to do that?”

“Right now I simply want to get Applemint home to her parents.”

“What is so special about a Halfling girl?”

“She is kind and willing to sacrifice herself for another; the sort of person who deserves to live a happy, peaceful life.   I’m sure the other women here want that chance as well…even you.”

“I’ve lived a long time, Half-Elf, I am far older than I look, believe me, but I certainly don’t want to be trapped here forever.   I’m fed up with Savel and this small dimensional world.”

Gevin nodded with a weary sigh, “Then any information that you can give me that might help me defeat Savel would be in your best interest, Lady Zaeya.”

The Drow lady rolled over on her side, her head propped up on her hand, “You know, surface Elves usually disgust me, but there is something about you that is…not so bad.   Perhaps it’s your mixed blood.”

Gevin frowned, “Well, that’s great, but you need to give me some tips for the battle tomorrow.”

She shrugged, “That’s simple - don’t die but kill him.”

“Great advice,” Gevin replied, growing more annoyed by the moment.

“He grows larger each time you strike him,” Zaeya finally said, “By the third or fourth whack, he is usually so big that his opponents are too focused on staying alive, so he finishes them quickly and then eats them.   You can’t let his size intimidate you.”

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” Gevin quoted the popular axiom. 

“Well, Savel is quite big, believe me.   When he grows, his armor and weapons grow with him.”

“Great…what else?”

“He is injured by weapons, but the earliest blows, when he is smaller, are the most important.”

Gevin nodded, “Does he have any vulnerability?”

“None that I know of, but the confined arena seems to make him clumsier when he gets twice his size, so use that to your advantage.”

“Will he play fair and abide by the rules of tourney combat?”

“Oh, he has to, due to the magic of this place.   Unless his rage overcomes him, and he breaks the rules of combat, when that happens, he begins losing size until he gets control of his anger.   He knows when he begins to shrink back down to the size that you saw him earlier and that cools his rage.    Usually he doesn’t get mad enough to begin to cheat because he simply dominates the arena.”

“I see,” An idea came to him and he paced around the room, analyzing it.

“You have a plan?”  The Drow lady asked hopefully.

“Perhaps, but it will take planning.”

Lady Zaeya’s red eyes seemed to be glowing brighter and she swung up gracefully to her feet and came over to him, wrapping her slender arms around him.

“If you can free us, I will be forever grateful,” She purred, inches away from his face.

“And I’ll be stuck here forever,”  Gevin responded, backing away from her embrace, “However, I will do my very best to win your freedom and that of the other women.”

“I can share my gratitude now, Gevin,”  She persisted, standing with her hands on her curvaceous hips.   It was more than a subtle invitation.

“I’ll bet you can, Lady Zaeya.   If I succeed and you are indeed grateful for what I have done, then I ask that you make certain that Applemint returns to her family.”

“I’ll find her hole in the ground, Gevin, if that is all you want.”

“She lives in a fine house above ground, Lady Zaeya and I don’t know for sure if you can be trusted on such a thing, but that is all the payment that I need or want.   Get her out of this forest and home to Whiteberry.”

“Whiteberry,”  the Drow lady snickered at the name, but then put her hand on her heart and bowed, “I give my word, Half-Elf, as a daughter of house Teodrythan that I will ensure the safe return of the Halfling with the silly name of Applemint to her family, in gratitude for the slaying of Lord Savel.   There!   Happy?”

“Good enough for me.   Now if you’ll excuse me, Lady, I have to prepare to kill an Ogre tomorrow.”

Zaeya bowed slightly and shuffled past on her way to the flap of the tent, but she let her hand slide across his upper arm alluringly as she passed and gave him such a sultry look that his face flushed.

“Good night, Half-Elf and good luck tomorrow,” she purred as she slipped out of his tent, leaving him alone to formulate his plan.




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 17, 2020
Last Updated on November 17, 2020
Tags: knights, magic, sword_and_sorcery, elf, fantasy, Nihility_Gate, Synomenia, Drow, Halflings


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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