Twenty One

Twenty One

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin speakes to Applemint's father about the girl.

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21.

‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new’

 -Socrates

 

After taking leave of Troem and Zaeya and returning to his room, Gevin found it impossible to sleep deeply that night as his mind wrestled with not only a decision about assuming control of Woodedge Fort, but also worrying about Applemint being able to accept and handle her mysterious change into a Halfling/Elf half-breed.  

In fact, he found himself wondering more about her and how the whole thing had occurred, rather than dwelling continually on the seemingly much more important questions regarding the fort and the people who were looking to him for guidance.

By early morning, he’d only napped briefly and by dawn he was up and moving around to funnel off the nervous energy.

He skipped breakfast since he wasn’t hungry and waited until the Inn finished serving most of the guests their morning fare before heading over to the fort.    He had not seen Applemint, Troem, Zaeya or any of the Halflings all morning, but as he was preparing to leave the Wood Chip, he found Mangle and Andrie (holding baby Billom in her arms) waiting patiently for him by the front entrance.

They bowed respectfully as he approached and offered the expected greetings, but he sensed a gravity to them that was unusual for the friendly, outgoing couple.

“Sir, I wonder if you have seen Applemint this morning?”  Mangle asked, his face drawn as if weary from worry.

“No, not this morning.”

“She never rejoined us last night.”

“What?”

“We had secured a room on the ground floor of the Inn and we waited for her late into the night but she never returned.   We were wondering…was she…with you?”

“With me?   No.   She was with your mother, Tori, and the two of them left the stable together.   Tori was taking her to see her grandpa and said she might stay with them for the night.”

“With my parents?” Mangle suddenly looked hopeful.

“Yes; have you spoken to them?”

“Not since we arrived here, lord.”

As they were speaking, they saw Tori and Tamfeld coming down the stairs across the room, with Applemint behind them, laughing at one of Tamfeld’s frequent jokes.   A deep sigh escaped Andrie’s lungs and relief softened her features.   Mangle’s shoulders slumped as well.

“Thank, Yesh!  Sir, I’m a fool; I never thought to check with my folks.”

“No harm done, Mangle - with all the people around, it is easy to…misplace…someone.”

“I shouldn’t have asked if she’d been with you, lord that was very inappropriate.”

“I’m not at all offended, Mangle.”

“She’s my only daughter, sir and she’s just about as perfect of one as a father could want, so I’m too protective of her.”

“That is just being a great father, Mangle.”

“She wasn’t too much trouble, was she sir?   She has her grandma’s fiery red hair and her stubborn streak as well.”

“Apple was wonderful, Mangle, she helped me in an extremely difficult time and took the initiative several times with decisions that proved her good common sense and maturity.   She is a credit to you and Andrie.”

Both Halflings beamed proudly and Andrie bowed to him, then crossed the room to talk to her daughter and beloved in-laws.   Mangle and Gevin watched them for a few moments before the Halfling spoke up.

“She’s grown, sir, you know, I think she’s taller than her mother now!”

“She is, Mangle; Tori, Apple and I had a discussion about that yesterday evening out in the stable.”

“Sir, what exactly happened, anyway, if you don’t mind me asking?  I mean - why did you leave, sir?   What happened?” Mangle asked, still watching his family from the other side of the room.

“I was growing very dark in my thoughts, Mangle - I had planned on…disappearing.”

“Disappearing?   But why, sir?   And some foolish messenger brought word that you had turned over ownership of Oakfield to Andrie and me - can you believe such nonsense?”

“It’s actually true, Mangle, and if things get straightened out in Greidour, the estate is your family’s.”

“Sir Gevin, why in the world would you do something like that?   What is wrong with you, lord?”

“I’m really old, Mangle - and until recently, I felt that I was the only person that could understand how it felt to be ageless around others who grow older.   Now I’m trying to see things differently.   It’s a long story, Mangle, and I’ll explain it to you some day, or Apple can, since she was there beside me through it.”

Mangle seemed to stiffen just slightly at Gevin’s words, though his expression never changed.

“You’re…fond…of her, aren’t you, sir?”

“Extremely fond, Mangle.”

“Ah…”

“Mangle, why does that bother you?”

“Bother me, lord?”

“Yes, you have a troubled look in your eyes.”

Mangle Pondertort actually blushed like a child caught in a lie, “Well, I…that is…um…”

Gevin patted the Halfling on the shoulder, “It’s alright, Mangle, I assure you.”

“Oh, I know that, lord!” he replied a bit too quickly as if terribly ashamed over his thoughts and desperate to prove he was better than that, “Goodness, sir, you’ve known Apple since she was born!”

“Yes, and I’ve known you for just as long.”

“Yes…yes you have, sir.   We’ve served you for several generations, haven’t we?”

“You certainly have, Mangle.”

The Halfling began nervously wringing his hands, “Well you see, I…it’s just that…I was…um…I was planning for Applemint to go stay with my aunt Frayla Zanderwalsh for a while - just so she could see more of the world, you know!   We have quite a bit of family in Southport, you see!”

“I know; Aelentorrli lives there with Frayla and her family.”

“What?   Um…w-why yes, she does…I don’t remember…did you ever meet my grandmother?”

“No, but Apple told me about her.”

“What?!”  Mangle exclaimed, then tried somewhat sickly to smile.

“Mangle, I know about Aelentorrli and Brandy and Lanel.”

“Oh dear…that girl told you everything?!”

“Yes, you see I was distressed over my rather dark ancestry - the Black Duke and all -and she used the story of Aelentorrli to help me see things better.”

“She did?”

“Yes, and I’m glad that she did, Mangle.”

“Um…well, yes…that’s good that she helped, I guess…anyway, I think I’m going to send her to see Frayla…and Aelentorrli…and all her kinfolk down there…it will be good for her.”

“Right now, a trip to Southport would be very dangerous, Mangle.”

“Oh…well…um…”

“Apple’s not going to go anywhere, Mangle.”

“She’s not?   Lord, no offense but that is really not your decision to make.”

Gevin squatted down so he could look Mangle squarely in the eyes, “She’s not going anywhere, Mangle.   I need her up here with me, do you understand?”

Mangle Pondertort looked stricken, all the blood draining from his face as his lord’s steely eyes held his gaze.

“Oh, no, lord…not my daughter…please.”

“Mangle, for Yesh’s sake, I’m not going to take her and ravish her!   Believe it or not, I could have more noble reasons for liking her!   She’s my…my friend, Mangle!   Do you realize how wonderful that title sounds to me?   I’ve not let myself call anyone a friend.   Your daughter, Mangle Pondertort, is my friend and I intend to quite selfishly keep her close to me and happily enjoy her good sense and her humor but more importantly, her company.   She saved my life, Mangle, do you realize that?   And all the time, she kept telling me what her father said about specific things and encouraged me to look at everything differently.”

“You love her, don’t you, Sir Gevin?”  Mangle asked, stunned.

“Yes, I think I do.”

“Does she love you?”

“I doubt it - she has that wonderful Pondertort sense of duty and loyalty and combined with her considerable charm and loveliness, she was able to beguile me.   But I am just her lord in her eyes.    That’s alright, Mangle, I assure you I won’t ever try anything improper with her or cause her any conflict.    Don’t you dare tell her that I love her, either, or I swear I will string you up!   I don’t want her to feel awkward around me or that I expect anything from her, that’s not it.   Right now, she makes me feel good and optimistic with just her presence and I need that, especially in view of what I might just have to do here.   I need her friendship, Mangle and I don’t want any foolish talk of sending her away.   Let her stay up here, Mangle…please.   I need her.”

Mangle was still conflicted and shocked at the words that left his master’s lips, but he also heard his heartfelt honesty and he nodded with a somber smile and patted his master’s arm.

“Alright, lord, I didn’t want to send her off, anyway.   I can see in your eyes that you’d never hurt her.”

“Never, Mangle, nor would I ever disgrace myself in your family’s eyes.    You all are nearly as precious in my heart as Apple is.   Here they come - I’m going to change the subject…”  Gevin stood up and both men tried to look like they were in the middle of another conversation, though the four Halflings could tell that they’d changed the topic by their slightly uneasy expressions.  

“Good morning!”  Gevin said to them and Applemint and her grandparents returned the greeting.

Gevin turned to Apple, who looked exceptionally lovely this morning.   Her grandmother had taken her long red hair and had skillfully woven it into a perfect braid that hung down nearly to her ankles. 

“How are you, Apple?” Gevin asked her, struggling not to be overcome with her beauty.

“Better today, lord,” She replied with her pretty smile, “You’re up early.”

“I have an important meeting with the rest of the garrison at the Woodedge fort that might change everything.”

“Really?” her green eyes sparkled, “Can we listen too?”

“Yes, it will affect all of you.”

“Can I walk over there with you, lord?” She asked, excited at the possibility of something historic happening in front of her.

“Ask your parents,” he glanced at Mangle with a smirk and the Halfling nodded.

“Go with your lord,” he told his only daughter, “But this time come back home tonight.”

“Sorry, papa; I was with grandma and gramps.”

“We didn’t know that, pumpkin; let us know next time so we won’t worry about you.”

“Okay…sorry,” She shot Gevin a look that exasperated teenagers give to their peers when an over-protective parent embarrasses them.

“Get something to eat, Apple -we might be over there a while.”

“Have you eaten, lord?” She asked, bouncing over to him and taking his arm, “I’ll bet you haven’t’ have you?   You know, important days should start with a full belly -right papa?”

“Just like I always told you, pumpkin.”

“Let’s find you something to eat first, and then we can go.”

“But the garrison is-“

“They’re not going any place, lord and they probably have had breakfast.   There’s no need for you to be talking to them with your stomach growling.    Let’s go see what’s left in the tavern!”  She took his hand and pulled him happily toward the dining area as her parents, baby brother and grandparents looked on in wonder.

“She’s extremely fond of him,” Tori told her family.

Tamfeld nodded in agreement, “Sir Gevin was all she talked about last night; we hardly got any sleep with her telling us everything he’d done.   She’ll talk his ears off!   Poor Sir Gevin!”

“Oh, he doesn’t mind at all, dad,”  Mangle replied to his father and the older Halfling arched his eyebrows, a slight question passing quickly between them.   Mangle nodded to his father’s look, but Tamfeld did not seem nearly as distressed as his son and, smiling, actually glanced at his granddaughter leading Sir Gevin up to a table set out buffet style with food for the guests.  

“Hmm…” the old Halfling mumbled, wondering what would transpire.

 

***

 

An hour later everyone was gathered in the audience hall of the Woodedge fort.   The garrison had generously welcomed the remainder of those living in the village and all the refugees from Greidour and about 250 people crowded into the hall, staring up to where Gevin nervously stood.   Applemint, at his insistence, stood beside him and was drawing a lot of interest from the men that had not seen her yet.   Troem and Zaeya were seated near the front and when she had pulled the hood back of her cloak, a startled ripple ran through the place, for no-one had seen a Drow.   She seemed to enjoy the surprise and sat there with her chin held regally, gathering more than a few admiring glances from the same men looking at Applemint.

“Well, here goes,”  Gevin mumbled to Applemint, and with a deep breath, raised his hands for silence.    He was surprised how quickly the room fell silent, for all were eager to hear what he had to say.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming here.    I want to also thank Captain Lute for allowing me this opportunity to speak to all of you.   For those of you who don’t know me, I am Gevin, a knight of Greidour.”

“The Black Duke’s son…” Someone mumbled and the crowd stirred uneasily.

“Yes, I am his b*****d, sired on an Elven woman who he had imprisoned.   I tell you that to show you that I have absolutely no pretense of nobility or superiority.   I have lived a long time - in human years- and I feel very old and weary.    In earlier days I did things that I deeply regret now, such as torching the forest that this fort protects.   Recently I’ve had an epiphany of sorts and part of that is an acceptance of my Elven heritage and a desire to end the centuries of mistrust and prejudice toward the Elven people.    Before I go on, I want to introduce a few people, who have been my travelling companions.   Troem, would you and Zaeya stand up?”

As soon as they did, Gevin introduced them, “This is Troem Agis, my great grand uncle, an Elf from the former kingdom of Albsidhe.    Many of you have been staring at the lovely black skinned lady sitting next to him.    She is  Zaeya D’Teodrythan and she is a Drow.”

Zaeya nodded to the crowd with a pretty smile and several men gave approving whistles which turned her smile into a grin as she sat back down.

Gevin turned and slipped his arm around the shoulder of Applemint, “And this beautiful lady is Applemint Pondertort.   Apple is my…secretary and assistant.   Most of her family arrived yesterday in the Halfling caravan.”

She glanced up at him with a pleased grin and then curtseyed to the crowd, which gathered several wolf whistles.    She blushed at the attention and pulled in a bit closer to Gevin, who protectively kept his arm around her.

“Now, we all know what has transpired recently in Greidour.   Right now there is a political hole that several claimants are attempting to fill and I expect months and perhaps even years of civil war until this whole thing is ironed out.   Until that time, there are very few places that are safe from conflict.”

“Woodedge is fortunate due to its location, to be out of the paths of the various armies marching across them.   Yet Captain Lute tells me that most of the garrison has scattered, logicially heading for home to be with their families on familiar ground during this terrible period of time.   I honestly don’t blame them, for their loyalty to the late king are voided by his passing.   With no legal heirs surviving, any oaths to King Corston are no longer binding.”

“Therefore all of you - like me- are suddenly free to choose who we will serve, or perhaps to serve no-one at all.   Captain Lute informs me that he is unsure what path he should follow as commander of the garrison, with no set central government in force.   That is the reason for this meeting, for as a community, you have the rare opportunity to chart your own future.   However, such a decision could be risky, if it is made rashly.   So I wanted to present a few suggestions to you.”

“First, I would suggest that you decide as a community the direction you take.   I suspect that any new king in Greidour will come into power only after defeating a majority of his enemies and there will be time to ally your community with one contender.   Waiting and remaining neutral would probably be safest for you, for a wrong choice could cost you dearly for years to come.”

“I doubt any one noble family could take control of Greidour, without making alliances with several other families.   Even then, they would be hard-pressed to make war on even a moderate sized city without a vast army and considerable resources.   So, with this garrison fort protecting this village, you may be much stronger in the political climate than what you think.   But that requires a defensive posture - securing your area and staying out of the squabbles of the nobles.”

Nevon Lute raised his hand and after Gevin acknowledged him, he stood.

“Sir Gevin, forgive my interruption, sir, but with most of our garrison’s forces gone, I don’t think we could establish much of a ‘defensive posture’.”

“You might be surprised, Captain, what can be done with only a handful of men.   But you are right; that is a concern.   I would suggest allowing some of the refugees to be trained and brought in to guard the fort.”

“Halflings?”  Someone called out and some of the garrison men laughed.   Gevin glanced at Mangle and Tamfeld, who bristled at the derogatory remark.

“Yes, Halflings,”  Gevin replied, “Let me tell you something; these ‘little people’ as many of you think of them are some of the bravest, most loyal people that I have ever known.   The Pondertort clan has served me for many years and I would be completely lost without them.”

“Especially her!” Someone catcalled, meaning Applemint and Gevin sensed his anger rising, but suddenly he felt her take his hand and squeeze it.

Gevin smiled, her touch dispersing his anger immediately, “Yes, Apple here has, like her parents and grandparents before them, as well as her brothers, been extremely helpful to me.  And I personally know that she could probably best most of you in an archery contest with a short bow.”

The soldiers liked that and they hooted and called, but Applemint just stood there with her chin high, though she was tightly squeezing his hand to try to maintain the facade of confidence.    Yet it was the truth, for the girl -and her brothers- were incredible archers, due to their father’s insistence that they learn.    The Pondertorts were masters of the short bow.

“Now that is what I’m talking about,” Gevin continued, and the hall fell silent, “You never know who can do what.   Apple was trained along side her brothers by her father Mangle and he is a master bowman too.   See?   You have archers already among you.”

“But short bows, lord?”  A man called out, and to his credit, he stood to speak, “We need long bows to defend the fort against an attack.”

“Yes, but Halfling archers can hit targets 100 yards away with their short bows.”

A surprised murmur filled the room.

“Don’t assume you know what they are capable of; they can surprise you.”

“Sir, what about your Elven companions?   Don’t Elves use long bows?” the same man asked and from his glances, he seemed more curious about Zaeya than Troem.

Gevin turned to his great grand uncle, who stood, “I am certainly no master, but I consider myself sufficiently trained with a long bow, though I haven’t shot one in years.”

He glanced down at Zaeya, who just leaned back to glance at the man who asked the question rather than standing, “My people live in caverns underground, but we use hand crossbows efficiently up to about 30 yards.”

“We need more, sir!” someone yelled out and the crowd mumbled agreement.

“I agree, which is why I think you need to consider extending an olive branch to the scattered Elves that used to live here.  Right now their youths are vandalizing the outlying farms, but if those same Elven young people could instead act as scouts to watch for the approach of any force from Greidour, or, if those still living further west could return and bring their longbows with them; perhaps they could augment your defenses.”

Nevon, who had remained standing during the dialog, spoke up, “That would be a tough order to fill, Sir Gevin.   There is considerable animosity between us, on both sides.”

“Believe me, I understand that from a personal experience that we had on our journey here.   But with the instability in Greidour, there should be some sort of peaceful understanding  - at least- here with the Elven remnant to the west or else their raids will keep things here so unstable that you cannot build up a defense against any force coming from Greidour.”

Another man raised his hand and then stood, “Sir, it almost sounds to me that you are calling for Woodedge to exist independent of Greidour.   Wouldn’t that be seen as rebellion to whoever finally becomes king of Greidour?”

“Woodedge was never really integrated into Greidour - this garrison proves that this was more of an occupied territory than an actual part of the kingdom.    The king might have established a noble title for his heir that would seem to make this region the Duchy of Albsidhe, but it was purely a title.   When was the last time the ‘duke’ came here?   I’d guess seldom or more likely never.”

“But it would be treason for us to branch out on our own, unless we had a leader who decided for us,” The man said and the audience mumbled in agreement.

“Would you be willing to follow someone who attempted this?”

The audience murmured unsure, and the man sat back down, but Nevon spoke up, “Sir Gevin, we need an experienced person to lead us, someone familiar with the politics of Greidour.”

“Yes, I concur, Nevon.”  Gevin’s hands were sweating, and Applemint, who still was holding one of them, squeezed it for reassurance.

“Sir Gevin, what about you?   Would you lead us and help us prepare defenses?”

All eyes were upon him, but he took time to swallow and take a deep breath, “I have always been loyal to the King of Greidour, even when I disliked some of his decisions.   But now that dynasty has ended and I do not know of anyone worthy to give my allegiance to.   I am certainly not noble, nor am I a leader, but I would be willing to help you form into an independent entity from Greidour.    Yet if I agree to it, I would have to have the ability to make decisions that I think is best.   You might not understand or agree with some of them, but I’d need your trust and cooperation for this endeavor to work.   Please understand that the Woodedge I imagine is a place where other races are welcome and treated as equal.   Not only humans and Halflings, but any Elves that seek to join this community.   If that is a problem, then I am certainly not the man for your job.   Perhaps you all should discuss this first; I’d be glad to leave and let you.”

A few thought that might be a good idea, so Gevin excused himself and went outside and climbed the stairs to the parapet wall, where he stood staring southward toward Greidour.   Applemint stayed behind to lobby for him.

His thoughts were racing as he waited.   Was this the latest in a series of mistakes?   Could he actually make the garrison fort and village into some sort of independent city or perhaps even a duchy with no alliance to a crown?   Would Elves actually come here and join them and could Elves and humans once again live together?

A thousand questions ran through his mind as he leaned on the parapet top and waited.   It felt like hours.

Finally, the sounds of footsteps behind him caused him to turn to find Applemint climbing up to him.  She was brightly smiling and at his curious look, nodded.

“They agreed to give you control.”

“How many were against it?”

“Only two and they were not adamant in their opposition, only a bit afraid,” Applemint came over to him and suddenly curtseyed in front of him.

“What was that for?” he asked, amused.

“Because they all decided that if you were going to be their leader, they want you to hold a noble rank, so they have named you duke.”

“I don’t think dukes are created by popular vote.”

“Not in a kingdom they’re not, but with all of the king’s party dead, they said that the title ‘duke of Albsidhe’ is yours to take.   They said that by assuming that title, you would be assuming all of the risk and most of the blame if a rival king decides he wants to take Albsidhe.”

“Well, that is logical, I guess; it would take some of the blame off of them, they’d say I just came in and took over.”

“But that won’t happen.”

“Let’s hope not.”

“You can keep it from happening…Your Grace.”

’Your Grace’?  Now don’t you start too, Apple, ‘sir’ or ‘lord’ is just fine by me, and really, why don’t you just call me by my name?”

“Duke Gevin?” She teased.

“Just Gevin.”

“Gevin, Duke of Albsidhe.”

“Apple…”

“Sorry Your Grace!” She giggled.

“Apple!”  He grabbed her wrist playfully and she feigned fright.

“A pox on me, Your Grace!”

As he stared into her beautiful eyes, he fought a terrible urge just to lean in and kiss her, but he heard others climbing up the ladder to the parapet wall, so he just kissed the back of her hand and she curtsied again, like a lady of the court with the king.

Troem’s head popped up from the top of the ladder, “Gevin, they’ve decided and want to see you.”

“Yeah, Apple told me; we’re coming.”

The moment ended and Gevin returned to the hallway to embark on the most challenging task he’d ever attempted to accomplish.

 

***

 

Gevin began immediately, as soon as he had finished meeting with the Woodedge assembly.  He’d accepted their proclamation that he was now ‘Duke of Albsidhe’ simply because it seemed to settle the issue for them.   If they were conquered by outside forces and asked about their ‘rebellion’, the people could point to him and claim that it was Gevin who had came in and declared himself their ruler, styling himself as duke.   It really didn’t bother him, because he knew this whole idea was an all-or-nothing plan at best.  

But what else could he do?   Ride to another kingdom and offer his services to a foreign king that was even more suspicious of someone of mixed Elven race?   Or perhaps he could select one of the warring nobles in Greidour and pledge to be his servant, and then hope that specific noble survived the time of conflict.

No, it was better to break free and make a last stand - if necessary-up here in the place from which so much of the pain and frustration in his life had emanated.   His mother’s land and the edge of the forest that he’d unintentionally destroyed.   There was no better place for one last chance and no more fitting place for him to die if it failed.

 

Failure was his biggest concern -not for any personal reasons, but for those who put their trust in him.  Oh, the people of Woodedge would probably survive like most residents in areas of war.   The common folk are adaptable and usually not executed for the decisions of their leaders.   But the Pondertort clan and the handful of human servants from Oakfield that had joined them, concerned him, as well as Zaeya even though she was certainly a survivor.   Even more worrisome than these though was Troem and Applemint, for the Elf was his only known blood family and the Halfling who now seemed to be Half-Elf as well, was growing more and more special to him.

 

It was with these individuals and the others looking to him for guidance that caused Gevin to jump immediately to work.   He spent the rest of the day reviewing the garrison fort, taking note of its weaknesses and strengths, inquiring about the level of training of the soldiers remaining and examining their weapons, armor and food supplies in case of a siege.  

That evening he took Applemint, Troem, Zaeya and Nevon with him as he looked at the layout of the surrounding village and shared with them his concerns about its vulnerability if a large armed force attacked.

“Like most villages that grew up around a garrison, the buildings were thrown up without little overall planning for streets or security,” he told them.

“Well, they’d just go into the fort if there was trouble,” Nevon replied.

“And that is a logical defense, but the problem then is that the village is put to the torch and everyone’s home is destroyed.   The village needs a perimeter wall around it that can be manned with archers and soldiers if necessary.”

“Yes, but sir that would take a long time to build; we’d need stone masons and material and we don’t have the manpower to construct it.”

“A wooden wall would be a temporary solution,”  Troem suggested.

“True, but we don’t have much lumber available here now, thanks to my army destroying the forest years ago,”  Gevin answered, glancing down at Applemint, who had brought out paper and a piece of charcoal to write with and was taking notes of what was being said.

She smiled at him, “I’m your secretary, remember?   Keeping track of important discussions is essential.”

“Yes it is, you’re doing fine, Apple.”

“You know,” Zaeya spoke up for the first time since they’d surveyed the town, “There are other ways to defend villages �" this one is not very large, it is just without walls.”

“How would we defend it without raw material?”  Gevin asked her.

Zaeya flipped her hood down, as the sun had nearly set by then and Nevon was a bit alarmed at the red glow of her eyes, but seeing the others unconcerned, didn’t say anything as the Dark Elf explained.

“Magic is the best way.”

“To defend a village?   Is that possible?” Applemint asked.

“Of course it’s possible!” Zaeya laughed, “You surface races have just forgotten how magic was used years ago, but I am a transplant into this era from those earlier times, so I could probably come up with some sort of defense that could at least give some protection to this village until walls could be constructed.”

“What sort of magic do you have?” Troem asked her.

“There is illusionary magic which would either fool attackers into believing something was different - or that the village simply wasn’t there.   I know some minor warding magic that would create magical barriers, but these could be broken through in time with regular weapons, though it would give defenders some time to resist.    There are some offensive spells that I could cast upon an attacking army, but I’d have to wait until the actual attack and they’d drain me so that I wouldn’t be able to use many of them each day.   But one effective spell would be to animate something to act as a defender.”

“Animate something?”  Applemint asked.

“You’re not talking about reanimating corpses?”  Gevin added his question.

“That is one way,” She replied, noting the horror and revulsion on all of their faces, “See how you’re responding?   When an attacking army only sees a few zombies or skeletons moving against them, they often let fear overtake them and withdraw.   It would work especially well here now since magic has been so forgotten by everyone.”

“But we’d have decaying people moving around the village!”  Applemint commented, “And wouldn’t some of those zombies be the bodies of those who had died here earlier?    How traumatic to see a dead loved one’s corpse walking around!”

Zaeya shrugged, “Well, it has its drawbacks to sensitive types, but the shock and horror value is immense.   Plus, you can cast the spell on the dead bodies of an attacking enemy and they’d rise up and fight against their old comrades.   That is especially effective.”

“What about some less horrible ideas, Zaeya?”  Gevin suggested and the Dark Elf smirked.

“Well, there are golems - those are creatures made from a material - anything from flesh, which would be just as bad as a zombie, to wood, clay or stone.”

“Now that sounds interesting - how does it work?” Gevin asked.

“A figure is formed and the incantation is cast upon it.   It has a specific instruction given to it or, more often a small list of specific insructions.   For example:  Defend the village if it is attacked.  When that specific event occurs, the golem animates and fulfills its instructions, then it goes dormant again.   Whoever enchanted it could activate it to act as a servant for relatively simple tasks at any time, however.”

“That sounds perfect for Woodedge!” Nevon exclaimed.

“Yes, but the downside is that each golem takes up to a month to create as the assembly has to be precise and the spell to animate it takes about ten hours to chant.   With more than one chanting the spell, the creation time can be reduced by a few weeks and if you work on it day and night in shifts, it could maybe be finished in a week, with a lot of focused effort.   The material to construct them wouldn’t be expensive, but they have to be created to exact guidelines for the incantation to work.   I’d be glad to start in on one - I’d suggest one made of clay as they move quicker and usually can have battle damage repaired.”

“How much clay would we need to do one?” Gevin asked, nodding to Applemint to jot down the number when Zaeya answered.

“You can make them the size of a human child’s doll - which would not do much good-or as large as an Ogre.    It is dependant on the amount of clay available here.”

All eyes turned to Nevon.

“Oh, we have a lot of clay.    To the east of the village is the Coldrun - a stream that is the main source of water here and it runs down out of the mountains up north.   Just to the northeast of the village, it enters into a large pool, and then exits by a smaller stream that continues southward until it flows into the millpond on the west side of town and then out again and continues on southward.   That pool to the northeast is thick with good quality clay - the Elves used to use it for pottery and some of the potters in the village still use it.   Most of the clay is deposited in that pool, because the water that flows into our village’s millpond is much clearer and fresher to drink.  The villagers use the millpond as a swimming hole too and I can attest that there is very little clay left in the water once it leaves that larger pool northeast of here and enters the millpond.    The walls of the clay pool are about twelve feet high and are made entirely of grey clay.   The Elves dug out an area on the north side of the pool’s bowl so they could get clay without having to wade through the water entering the pool.”

“That would be perfect,” Zaeya said, trying to not sound excited, though they noticed that her eyes seemed to glow a bit brighter.

“Zaeya, would you be willing to oversee the construction of golems?” Gevin asked her, “I’d like as many as we could get, all about twelve feet tall.   Can we cover them with armor and give them weapons?”

“Easily.   Sure, it sounds like a challenge and I haven’t had many of those for many years.   I’ll need some wagons and some men to extract the clay.”

“I’ll see to that,”  Nevon answered.

“Let’s start in tomorrow morning before sunrise…my eyes are starting to adapt to this horrid bright light, but I’d prefer to work before it gets too bright.   I can show your men what I want and then leave them to do it.”

“That will be fine, ma’am,” Nevon responded and Zaeya smiled at his politeness, before turning to Troem.

“As for you - how would you like to learn how to make a golem?”

“Me?  I’m not a sorcerer, Zaeya.”

“You’re an Elf, and we have magic in our blood, regardless.  I can teach you and then we can double our production or reduce the construction time if we focus on just one.   We seem to work very well together,” She arched her eyebrows knowingly and from Troem’s slight flushed face, she was alluding to something private between them.   But Troem smiled and agreed.

“Is this all permissible to Your Grace?”  Zaeya asked Gevin with an exaggerated curtsey.

“That’s wonderful, Zaeya, but if we have any issues with the Elves to the west, I will have to pull Troem away to serve as my diplomat, since he understands them better and they’d accept him.”

“Perhaps not if they saw him with me,” the Dark Elf lady replied with a laugh, “In time perhaps I could see if any willing humans could learn the spells and they could assist in production as well.   But for now I think a working prototype will be my focus.”

“Well, that is a good start, everyone.   We need a group to gather rocks and stones and pile them in a center area.   As poor as the soil seems to be, there should be plenty of them - we will try to build a makeshift wall around the town out of these loose rocks - if we only can get it at least four feet high, it will act as a barrier and give defenders something to fight behind, though six feet or higher would be even better.    Not as secure as a wooden palisade or dressed stone wall, but we’ll use what material is available to us right now and improve on it later.   Nevon, can you find a group of men to work with Zaeya and Troem and a second group to gather rocks - this group could include women or kids if they want to, but the rocks we need should at least be the size of your fist or larger.”

“I think I can find some willing for both parties.”

“Good; now we also need to have supplies stored in case of a siege and it is best to start assembling them now.   Foodstuff and clothing supplies could be handled by the women.”

“My Mom and Grandma would be perfect for that job, lord,” Applemint told him.

“Maybe some of your cousins could help too?”

“That should be no problem.”

“Ask them later, if you don’t mind.”

“Do you want me to join them?”

“No, you’re my secretary, remember?   I need you to keep track of all these plans we’re making, so you need to stay with me.”

“Okay; this is much more interesting,” She replied happily.

Gevin turned to Nevon, “The armory was in pretty good shape, Nevon, and there seems to be a fair number of swords, pole-arms and spears, but very little armor and all of it is human sized.   I’d like at least a hundred gambesons to start out with, in Halfling and human size and some helmets as well.    We need more mail for everyone and short swords for the Halflings.   We’d need to secure some iron for the mail and leather, wool and cotton for the gambesons -- I want the padded jack style made for the gambesons.   Very thick, sew as many layers as possible that can be worn comfortably.”

“I understand, sir, they shouldn’t be hard to make, but we may not have enough iron for swords, and certainly not enough for many suits of mail.”

“Are there enough smiths here to fill the need if we could get more material?”

“If that is all they do, yes, I imagine they could fill the orders.”

“We also need bows - short bows and long bows and fletchers to make as many arrows as possible.   I want all the men over the age of 12 to receive archery training and they shall be expected to go to target practice for one to two hours a day until further notice, but we’ll wait until there is enough bows and arrows for them.”

“I’ll see to it, sir,”  Nevon assured him.

“I’m expecting some sort of activity from the Elves in the west very soon.   It could be nothing, but I want your guards and the townspeople to be on guard and alert.”

“Perhaps a curfew would be wise too, sir, at least for a few days.”

“Good idea, Nevon - starting tomorrow, everyone in doors from one hour after sunset until one hour before dawn.”

 

They discussed several other topics and then all of them returned to the Wood Chip, where they found most of the Halfling and human refugees engaged in dinner.

As Gevin was just beginning to relax from the worries of the day, a man came running into the Inn, yelling as he came through the door that a large band of Elves on horseback were approaching from the west.

Panic gripped the place, everyone jumping up and running in various directions and yelling a thousand things which no-one could hear over the countless other voices.

 

By the time they had reached the fort, the Elven riders were approaching.    About fifty in number and armed with bows and other weapons, they wore the light, but highly protective leather and Elven mail armor typical of the race.   Gevin had never seen so many Elves at one time, and they rode directly up to the gatehouse.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Nevon called down from above as his men hurriedly took up positions around the parapet wall.

One of the riders rode forward a few paces, “I am Terib Atlonneix; we come here seeking the knight Sir Gevin.”

The Elf’s surname was familiar and Troem told Gevin softly, “That is Crois’ father; I’ll bet anything on that.”

Nevon glanced at Gevin, uncertain what he should do or say, but Gevin walked to the edge of the parapet wall and called down, “I am here, Terib Atlonneix and I will come down and speak to you man to man, either inside the fort courtyard or outside in front of your band.”

“Do you know why I have come, Sir Gevin?”

“I would suspect your son has led you here.”

“Yes.”

“Then I will come down and speak frankly to you, man to man.   I will not be armed, nor wear armor.”

“I am armed and wear my armor.” The Elf replied.

“I understand, but I will not bear arms or protect myself.   I know already what your people think of me, and I can imagine what your son has told you about me.   Judge for yourself, Terib Atlonneix, but I am not going to cause any more ill thoughts of me.   If you are merely here to seek revenge, then I will make it quite easy for you.   But perhaps before you extract it you should hear about an idea we have to restore your people to this land that was wrongfully taken from them and perhaps ensure a peaceful existence here for them.”

“Noble and brave words, Sir Gevin, but I will hear you out and I give my word that you shall not be harmed until we hear what you have to say.”

“Fair enough, sir, I will be right down.”

Applemint immediately tried to stop him, but he put a finger to her lips before she could protest, “Trust me, Apple, this has to be done sooner or later or this will all fall apart.   If they kill me, then follow Troem and encourage everyone to listen to him.”

Gevin turned to his great grand uncle, “I think Terib means what he said.”

“His father was an honorable man, and I hope he is as well.   We will be praying for you, Gevin.   Speak honestly to him, for he will know deception.”

“I intend to, Troem.”

Nevon, Zaeya and the others wished him well as Applemint accompanied him to the bottom of the parapet, fear still clouding her pretty green eyes.

“Lord, you don’t have to do this!” She said, clinging to his arm in desperation.

“Yes I do, Apple; I think I’ve needed to do this for a long, long time.   Too many unresolved sins -The Black Duke’s as well as my own-against this once noble race.   One way or another, there will be closure here tonight.”

“But for whom?”  Apple cried, hugging his arm tightly for a lingering moment, then hurrying back up to the parapet wall to watch.

Gevin turned and with a deep breath, walked toward the gate of the fort, and nodded to the two men guarding it.    It opened only a few feet - enough for him to squeeze through-and he slipped outside to talk to Crois’ father.

Up on the parapet, Apple was trembling, not wanting to watch the exchange, but unable not to look.   Behind those manning the parapet wall, Zaeya could be heard softly singing or mumbling, though nobody paid her much attention due to the encounter about to take place in front of the fort.

 




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 30, 2020
Last Updated on November 30, 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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