Nineteen

Nineteen

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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The sleeping arrangements of the four companions leads to some changes.

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19.

‘We fear the thing we want the most.’

-- Robert Anthony

 

 

“There; that’s the edge of the bed,”  Troem told Zaeya as he led the blinded Dark Elf into one of the two bedrooms of the suite, “Are you situated now?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, sliding back onto the soft bed that, due to the enchantment on the Inn, was as fresh and clean as if a housemaid had just made it.

“Is there anything else you need?”  Troem asked, already moving toward the door.

“Where are you going?”

“Out into the foyer of the suite - I’ll spend the night there.”

“In a chair?”

“It looks comfortable.”

“That wasn’t part of the plan, Troem,”  Zaeya said with a slight smile, “You are supposed to be close by in case something happens.”

“The foyer is close by.”

“Not close enough.”

“Well, I guess I could pull the chair in here, if it isn’t too wide for the bedroom door frame.”

“Or you could just join me here on this nice soft bed - there is plenty of room.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, Zaeya.”

“Why not?   Even blinded, I could easily stop you if you tried to force yourself on me.”

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry.”

“Oh come on, Troem, I can see it in your eyes…well, not right now, but earlier I could.   You are attracted to me.”

“Zaeya, you are a very attractive lady, but-“

“It’s alright, Troem; many surface Elven men are strongly attracted to dark Elven women; we are simply much more alluring than those skinny girls of your race.”

“Zaeya, I-“

“There is no need to apologize, Drow women are used to being lusted after.   I know you can’t help yourself.”

“Yesh have mercy!  You surely can’t-“

“Can’t find you attractive?   Troem, don’t sell yourself short!  You are a very handsome man.”  She slipped off the shoes he’d given her to wear and wiggled her toes in the air in relief.

The Elven man stood there marveling at how she could manipulate anything he tried to say.   What was she wanting?

“You are welcome to stay here with me for the rest of the night, Troem, but of course the choice is yours,” She said as she unwound her braided hair.   The silver-white mane fell down to her waist and she positioned it so she could lie back on the bed.   She then began to loosen the ties of the tunic he’d loaned to her.   Thankfully, she didn’t remove it, though with the laces undone, she exposed a lot of her cleavage. 

“Are you going to stay with me or go?” She finally asked as he stood there undecided over the most proper course of action.

“It’s not proper for a man to stay with a woman in a situation like this.”

“I’m not a proper woman, Troem.   You can relax, though, for my eyes hurt and I’m in no mood for fooling around.   You’re wasting time you could be sleeping, though, so please make up your mind.   I won’t bite you…unless you bite me first!”

Troem felt his heart pounding in his chest and knew in his mind that he should turn and head to the foyer.   Usually he had no problem making the right choice, but tonight it was incredibly difficult.   He’d been alone for a long time and here was a beautiful, spirited woman of a race that he’d thought was long ago extinct, asking him to stay with her for the night.    He was sure he was too nervous to even consider trying anything, but was it wise to test temptation?   Yet despite his pride in his moral wisdom, he found himself somewhat hesitantly walking toward the bed.

Zaeya heard him and smiled prettily, slipping over to one side to give him room to join her. 

“Good, I’m glad you decided to stay, Troem.   I enjoy your company and you are fascinating to talk to.”

“I guess my view of things is quite a bit different from yours.”

“Yes, and that is why I find you so interesting; you challenge me to look at things differently and I enjoy that, believe it or not.”

Troem slipped down on the bed, as close to the edge as he could.  

“Well, we should get some sleep; we have another long ride tomorrow.”

“Yes, we should,” She said softly, and he felt her slide over onto her side and prop her head up on her elbow next to him, her other hand tracing circles on his chest.  He glanced over at her, alarmed to find her face very close to him, her red eyes glowing brightly.

“You aren’t blind at all, are you?”

“Not anymore.   I was, but Drow have healing spells that they cast on their eyes that quickens the time of recovery from blindness from bright light.   I cast it on my eyes after you brought me in here.”

“You said that your eyes hurt and you weren’t in the mood for anything but sleeping.”

“Oh, I lied, but it got you in here with me,” She replied, and before he could say anything, she was suddenly kissing him with no small degree of urgency.   Long dormant emotions came suddenly fully awake and he returned her kiss and did not resist as she pulled him down on top of her.

 

***

 

Across the foyer from Troem and Zaeya, Gevin and Applemint were preparing to sleep.   Gevin sat on one side, dressed only in the tunic and pants that he wore under the armor’s arming doublet, watching as Applemint washed her face, using a basin and towel found in the room.

“I’d much rather have a proper bath, but I guess this will have to do,” She said as she dried her face and checked one last time to make sure the door was firmly locked.   She hurried over to her side of the bed and slipped under the covers, pulling them up to her chin.

“Aren’t you going to lie down, lord?”  She asked as he just sat there with his back against the headboard.

“I think I’ll just sit here for a while and think,” he responded with a smile, “It is also better to be awake so I can respond to anything that happens.”

“Nothing will probably happen,” She replied confidently, which seemed much different than her attitude of earlier.

“I thought you were uneasy.”

“I just didn’t want to be around Zaeya,” She smiled guiltily, “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Well, you put both me and Troem in awkward positions.”

“Troem has the hots for her, sir.”

“He does?”  Gevin replied, though he’d actually noticed it as well.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?   Apparently he likes the wild, scary type of women.”

“He’s probably just fascinated with her because she is so different and exotic to him.”

“She’s certainly both of those things, lord.”

“Sorry she has caused you so much grief; she does like to stir things up.”

“If all Drow are like her, I can see why they live underground.”

“Well, hopefully we’ll rendezvous with your parents and family soon and you’ll not be around her, at least so much.”

“Yeah…” Applemint didn’t seem very excited and this surprised Gevin.

“Apple, you seem less than enthusiastic.”

“Huh?  Oh, no, I’ll be glad to see them and very relieved to have them out of Greidour if there is a civil war going on.”

“So why do you sound so somber?”

“Lord, I just really don’t want to have to answer a thousand questions from my nosy brothers who will pester me to death and crack jokes about everything.”

“You just want to put all of this behind you and move on.”

“I just don’t want to have to give a detailed report to my family and have them criticize and analyze everything I did or be told that I was foolish or immature for doing this or that.  I’m afraid they’re going to react like I was a silly little girl that got lost for a few days and reprimand me and tell me how I should have behaved better.”

“You’ve behaved very well, Apple, and achieved the very goal you set out to achieve.    You took the initiative and acted quickly and that shows an adult level of reasoning.”

“Really?”  The lovely redheaded girl looked over at him hopefully.

“Absolutely!  You have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.   I intend to commend you to your parents and that should tell them how helpful you’ve been.”

“Thank you, sir.   My father is really protective of me and I’m sure I’ve driven him crazy these past few days with worry.   I suspect that nothing you or I could say could convince him not to be irritated at me for acting without telling him.   I’m always just his little girl.”

“Fathers should be protective of their daughters, or sons for that matter.   Sadly, some could care less.” 

Her hand touched his forearm in sympathy, for she thought he was thinking of his own father, though he was not consciously thinking of him when he’d said that.

“Lord?”

“Yes, Apple.”

“What are you going to do once we rendezvous with my parents?”

“I’ve been pondering that for the past few days, Apple.   I really don’t know.   I’d pledged fidelity to King Corston as I had to his father and grandfather before him, so I’ve been faithful to that dynasty.   But if that lineage has been extinguished and there are several rivals battling for control, my pledge is nullified and I’m free to choose.”

“So do you have to choose someone to support?”

“Well, I don’t have to support anyone, I guess, but that is what knights do, really; support a king or nobleman.”

“You’ve done that for a long time though and you’re no better for all of your years of loyal service to that lineage of kings.   Do you think supporting a new king would make things better for you?”

“It would probably be no different than supporting King Corston’s dynasty, but that is the nature of being a knight.”

“So why keep at it, lord?”   Applemint turned and propped herself up on one elbow and Gevin slid down slightly so his head was against the pillow.

“What do you mean?   What else would I do, Apple?”

“Why not start your own kingdom?”

“What?” he laughed, “Start my own kingdom?  What do you mean?   Get in the mix with the other nobles and fight for the crown of Greidour?   The people wouldn’t accept a Half-Elf as their king.”

“No, I mean start your own kingdom - up here in Albsidhe.”

“Are you serious?   There’s nothing left up here, Apple!   Just Elven bandits and I don’t think I’ve endeared myself to them lately.”

“I think you could handle them, lord.    I’ll bet when word got out, you’d have refugees from Greidour come here and gladly accept you as their king.”

“Or they’d just try to seize control and become warlords of this area.”

“You really don’t aim very high, sir.   You’ve got the experience and wisdom to rule, lord.”

“But I’ve made a lot of enemies, especially amongst the Elven people, and enough of them still haunt the area to make such an idea very risky.”

“No more risky than trying to pick which Greidour nobleman to support.   If you picked wrong, you might end up executed by his rival, especially if that rival wins the crown.”

Gevin sighed in frustration, frowning at the girl, “How in the world did you get so wise?”

Applemint blushed prettily and shrugged, “It’s really just common sense, lord, which sometimes is forgotten by important people when they’re dealing with such weighty issues.”

“Apple, if I tried something crazy like you suggest, I’d not only be putting myself in danger, but also anyone supporting my cause.”

The Halfling girl smiled sweetly, “I’m willing to take the chance.”

Her words made his heart leap at her loyalty, though he knew it was merely the optimism of her youthfulness.   Still it was touching to him.

“You’re quite a young woman, Applemint Pondertort; your father has every reason to be so protective of you, because he knows what a jewel he has.”

Her eyes sparkled at his compliment and again his heart danced.

“There is no-one else I would follow but you, lord.”

“I’m honored by your loyalty - and your family’s as well, though your father would probably kill me if he knew we were lying in the same bed having this conversation.”

“He trusts you, sir, even with me.”

“I’m not so sure; you are extremely beautiful, Apple.”

“You’re so kind, sir.   He knows you wouldn’t force yourself on me - or any woman.”

“I’m not as virtuous as he thinks, Apple.”

“Well there is nothing stopping you right now except yourself and as you can see, I’m not the least bit worried being here next to you.”

“Well, I thank you for your confidence, but I fear you may be too optimistic on the character of knights.”

“So you are tempted like regular men?”

“Yes.”

“Even by teenaged Halfling girls?” She teased and he blushed beet red and was too ashamed to answer, for the way she’d phrased it made him feel somewhat perverse to be so attracted to her.

“We’d better get to sleep,” He said somberly and she realized then that she’d activated his overwhelming sense of guilt.

“Okay, sir…I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“It’s alright, Apple, I frequently forget my place or how very old I am.   That is why I am quite sure I would never make a good king.”   He pulled the covers up to his chin and closed his eyes, “Goodnight, Apple.”

As he waited for her reply, he was surprised to find something warm and soft pressing against his lips and his eyes popped open just as Applemint’s quick kiss had ended and she was slipping back down onto the bed.

“Goodnight, lord,” She said affectionately nestling down close to him and closing her eyes.    His lips still tingled from the kiss and his heart beat wildly as realization of what had happened flooded over him.  He fought a strong urge to just lift her face and return the affection with a longer kiss, but her question earlier about whether he was attracted to a teenaged girl echoed in his ears and he just laid there staring at her until he finally dropped off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

The next morning, Gevin was up before any of them, relieved to find the doors of the haunted inn functioning normally.   It wasn’t quite daylight by the time he’d finished caring for their small herd of horses in the stable.   They had fared very well overnight and were ready to go by the time the others appeared.   They all three arrived together, Applemint her usual smiling self, but Troem and Zaeya both quiet and nearly lost in thought as they joined them.   Both of them didn’t say much, but Zaeya seemed to be of a far gentler mood this morning.

“How’d it go?”  Gevin asked Troem as the two women were getting their horses ready.

“What?”  Troem replied, a strange look on his face at Gevin’s question.

“Last night - did she drive you crazy?”

“Zaeya?   No, no, she was…she was fine,”  Troem replied, stammering and not looking up at Gevin.   Though he was far from worldly in such things, the Half-Elf knew then what had happened and so changed the conversation so as to not embarrass the Elven man or hint that he was not hiding anything very well.

“Hopefully we can reach Woodedge by evening; do you think we can by sundown?”

“Yeah, if we ride all day and the weather stays clear.”  Troem still didn’t look at him, but Gevin noticed that he kept glancing in Zaeya’s general direction.   Once he saw her glance back and smile subtly before turning back to stroking and talking to Ihar, who was very fond of the Drow woman by now.

 

A few minutes later they were underway, leading the spare horses behind them as they had done the day before.   The weather was hot but cloudy and they made good time as the horses had rested well overnight.

Troem and Zaeya rode side by side but didn’t say much to each other throughout the day and even Applemint seemed preoccupied.   Perhaps she was just anxious to see her family, but it gave Gevin a good opportunity to ponder what his next move should be once they reached Woodedge.   For once in his long life, he was uncertain what to do next.    He wrestled with various possibilities, some of them very fantastic, but by mid afternoon he’d decided to just see what Applemint’s parents could tell him about the situation in Whiteberry, before he made any long term plans.

 

By then they were moving through the same hills that he had lead an army through years ago, only now the forest was gone, replaced with just scattered trees and empty land.    Having seen the Albsylvia woods, it broke his heart to see the deforestation caused by his army’s destructive fire.    At the southern end of the forest, as the hills grew smaller and gentler, they stopped to stretch their legs and let the horses drink from a cool stream that still flowed southward.

As Troem and Zaeya led their horses to the stream to drink, Applemint grabbed Gevin by the arm, put a finger to her lips to indicate silence, and led him a little ways off.

“I didn’t want Zaeya to hear - she can hear better than anyone I know.”

“What’s wrong, Apple?”

“Lord, I was watching Zaeya and Troem all day and I think there is something going on between them.”

“There is; I noticed it too.”

“Do you think last night they…”

“I don’t know, but they have been trying to conceal it all day.”

“Zaeya hasn’t said much of anything, which is strange for her.”

“But that’s not a bad thing.”

Apple giggled, smiling prettily, “You’re right, it’s not!”

“Don’t say anything to them; just pretend that you have not noticed a thing.   We’ll be in Woodedge by sunset and hopefully your family will be waiting for us or will arrive soon.”

“Yeah, I’ve tried not to think about them all day, because then I began wondering if they ran into any trouble leaving Greidour.”

“Your folks are resourceful, Apple, they’ll be fine.   I’m sure of it.”

“I hope so, sir.   You know, it has been rather nice not being bossed around by my brothers.”

“They’ve probably worried themselves sick about you.”

“I don’t know - maybe so, but they won’t act like it; you watch.”

“Well, let’s get back or those two might begin thinking we’re talking about them.”

“Okay.”  

When they returned, they brought their horses over to drink and for a quarter of an hour they just stretched their muscles.   Gevin was eager to get the journey over with, however, so soon they had resumed their ride.

 

***

 

It was nearly sunset when the garrison fort of Woodedge came into view.    The fort was actually a large square keep made of thick stone, easy to defend with few men and yet strong enough to hold out against a determined foe for many months.    Around the keep a medium sized village had grown with shops catering to the garrison soldiers and their families (which mostly lived in homes outside of the fort except in times of danger).   The soil wasn’t the best for growing crops, yet a few determined farmers scratched out a living in the fields surrounding the fort.   There were several deep, clear wells that provided cold water, including a protected one within the Woodedge fort.

He’d not spent long in the area when leading his army north, years ago, but he’d seen enough to immediately tell that the village as well as the fort was mostly deserted.   As they approached the village and the keep overlooking it, they could see a convoy of wagons travelling southwest in the distance.

“Everybody is abandoning the garrison,”  Gevin told his companions as they rode through the village, encountering no one and seeing only recently boarded up houses, shops and farms.   Only the handful of buildings nearest the fort seemed to be inhabited and he wondered about the garrison forces as they found the only Inn still operating. 

“I’ll stay with the horses while you check in,”  Zaeya said, pulling her cloak’s hood over her head.

“I’ll stay with her, just in case,” Troem quickly added and Gevin agreed.

They hitched their horses at a post near the back of the Inn and Gevin and Applemint walked across a large wooden deck that surrounded the Inn, heading toward the front.    A few men near the entrance glanced up in surprise as they approached, but immediately went back to their private conversation.  

The Inn, ‘The Wood Chip’, was large and seemed to be the hub of the village (other than the fort), but now it was nearly empty.   As they entered the bar area to see about rooms for the night, they found only a dozen men (and a few women), most of them around the bar, drinking and eating and talking amongst themselves in subdued tones of voice.

The bartender didn’t even look up as they approached, only seeing them out of the corner of his eye as he cleaned a whiskey glass.

“Who are you here for?”  He asked impatiently.

“I beg your pardon?”  Gevin replied.

“Who are you here for?   You’re teamsters here to move out one of our families, aren’t you?”  He turned and glanced at them and upon seeing Gevin’s armor and knightly appearance, he paled, “Oh, my apologies, sir!   We’ve had so many teamsters here all day moving people I thought you were some of them.   Welcome to ‘The Wood Chip’, sir!  How are things in Greidour?”

“I haven’t been there in several days, so I’m curious about the same thing.”

“Really?   You’ve heard about the coup, though, haven’t you?   The king and most of his family murdered!   No-one knows who exactly did it and the kingdom is in chaos.   That’s why the garrison commander ordered his men to head for home.    Only those without kin in Greidour are still manning the fort.   You are one of the royal knights, aren’t you?”

“Sir Gevin, at your service,”  Gevin bowed and as he mentioned his name, he noticed several heads turn in his direction.   The bartender paled slightly, but quickly recovered his easy-going smile.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir.   I’ve heard of you, of course,”  he looked at Applemint, who had sat down on a barstool beside Gevin.   The man’s eyebrows arched slightly as he took in her loveliness.

“M’lady,” he said with overdone formality, but Applemint smiled graciously in reply and the barkeep turned back to Gevin.

“Sir, would you and your lovely lady need a room for the night, then?”

“We would require two rooms; we have two other travelers with us who are tending to the horses.   Tell me; do you still have a stable boy?   I’ve heard of thieves operating around here the past few days.”

“We lock our stables after dark and we have two stable hands that sleep above the stable; your horses will be well taken care of, sir.”

“Excellent; we’ll also require meals if they are available.”

“And hot bathes!”  Applemint added.

“Both can be arranged…for an additional fee.”

“That will be fine.    Has there been any Halflings in here the past few days?   We are expecting to rendezvous with my companion’s family very soon.”

“No, not that I’ve seen.”

“And this is the only Inn still operating here in town?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If some comes looking for me, would you kindly tell them where we are staying?”

“Certainly, sir.   Let me see what is available - we should have a number of quality rooms.   Would you prefer two suites with a private doorway between them?”

“That would be quite nice, yes.”   Gevin used some of the gold that they had found in the Elven youths’ saddlebag to pay the bartender a very generous tip after meeting his rather steep price for ‘all the amenities’.

 

His generosity enabled Troem and Zaeya to enter the Inn through the backdoor so the humans in the bar would not be allowed to see both an Elf and, more amazingly, a Drow head to their room.    As soon as all four of them were in the suites, he left to check on the horses and glance around the village just in case Applemint’s family might have arrived while they were getting settled in their rooms.

Gevin was pleasantly surprised to see a caravan of six wagons  approaching from the south.   As they neared in the twilight, he could make out the two small figures driving the lead wagon.   It was Mangle Pondertort and his oldest son Devin and they had Thallow and Dart hitched to the wagon.

Behind them were all their kin from Oakfield, twenty nine Halflings, and twelve of the human field laborers had joined them in the last two wagons in line.

He rushed back inside to tell Applemint and soon the two of them were waiting for the caravan’s arrival while Troem and Zaeya stayed concealed in their room.

 

They didn’t have to wait long, for her brother’s sharp eyes found them quickly in the twilight and soon a joyous reunion between the Pondertort clan and Applemint played out near the walls of Woodedge fort.   Several sentries looked down at the racket, squinting to see by torchlight as Mangle, his wife and two oldest sons hugged and made-over Applemint in the happy way that the little folk frequently did.

Gevin just stood back and allowed the reunion to continue, a deep sense of relief on his weary face as he watched their joy.

Applemint’s mother, Andrie, wept as she hugged her and the girl was crying as well.  Though he was anxious to find out the situation in Greidour, he just left them alone.    Then Applemint’s extended family joined them and the hugs resumed again, so Gevin decided to go speak to the humans travelling with them, who had stopped a respectful distance away and were also watching.

He felt a bit ashamed that he didn’t know them by name, for they lived on his land - or what had been his land, as he’d deeded Oakfield to Mangle Pondertort, though he suspected that they had not had time to think about the transfer of ownership with all the chaos of the last few days.

The humans in the last wagons recognized him, though and all of them bowed respectfully, for as far as they knew, he was still their lord.

“Good Evening,” he said to the older man driving the first wagon.   He thought the man was the Bailey for the Oakfield estate but he wasn’t completely certain.

“M’lord,” the man replied, “We are sure glad to see you, sir.”

“Did you have any trouble?”

“Only at first, m’lord; we didn’t believe Mangle, really.   We thought he was insane, but for a little guy he can certainly be persuasive.   It’s a good thing too, ‘cause when we were about two miles on the road, a band of probably two score riders came from the west and headed toward Oakfield.”

“Riders?!  Who were they?”

“Well, Oakfield apparently was their destination, ‘cause they only sent one scout up to us to make sure we were leaving and once he saw we had everything personal packed up, he rode back to the others.   He never said a damned word to any of us.   He was wearing Earl Cetiline’s colors over his armor; I’d say some of the knights went over to the Earl.   Baron Dellye is assisting him too and most say the Earl will try to claim the throne, sir.    How’d you know they’d come and take Oakfield?”

“I didn’t know for sure, but Cetiline knew I was the King’s champion, so neutralizing me would make sense.”

“We didn’t see what they did to the estate, m’lord, but I don’t think they’ll torch it - instead, either Cetiline or Dellye will claim it for themselves.   How’d you get the message to Mangle so quickly, sir?   We had no idea where you were and some fool told me that you’d given the estate over to the Halflings before this whole mess began.”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter much now anyway; the land is Cetiline’s now.   How many of our people remained?”

“Not many, m’lord.   Mangle told them to leave if they weren’t joining our convoy and most of them fled for the hills, afraid of what eventually happened.   Most of them are scattered to the four winds, sir.   The rest will just grovel to the Earl; they’re survivors.”

Gevin nodded, wringing his hands, “Well, I am glad you made it - this is going to be our refuge for awhile.   If most of the garrison has fled, I need to see who is in control of the fort.   I think I’ll pay them a visit to see what is going on.   If Mangle or anyone wonders where I am, tell them I’ve gone to speak to the garrison commander…assuming there still is someone in charge.”

“Yes, m’lord,” the man bowed slightly and Gevin headed over to the fort’s main gate.




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 28, 2020
Last Updated on November 28, 2020
Tags: Synomenia, Nihility_Gate, fantasy, elf, sword_and_sorcery, magic, knights, Halflings, Drow


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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