Twenty Three

Twenty Three

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Earl Cetline's son, Lord Phane, visits Woodedge Fort.

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23.

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.”
Goldie Hawn

 

The next morning everyone got very busy at once putting all the plans of the previous day in motion.   It amazed Gevin that everyone would respond to his suggestions so eagerly and he spent the entire day going around seeing everyone’s work. 

He even helped with mending some of the garrison mail coats and sharpening dull swords and daggers.    He strung a number of bows that Nevon found stored in a long unused crate in the garrison fort and late in the afternoon, conducted the first class on archery for ten young boys and several young girls, plus an equal number of Applemint’s family (which were already quite proficient with short bows).

Applemint had joined him about nine in the morning, looking rather tired and more than a little hung-over.   She apologized for her appearance, but claimed that she had no memory of the evening after the Elven band left.   Gevin was glad that she couldn’t recall anything.   By the time the archery class began, she had recovered and was her old self and she took it upon herself to show the young human girls how to hold a bow and to shoot.

As he’d expected, the Halflings were quite good shots and Applemint matched the older Halfling men with her skill, which was a huge encouragement to the girls.

 

It was nearly dinnertime again when one of the guards on the garrison fort’s wall sighted a column of men riding northward from Greidour.

“I’d say probably twenty of them, m’lord,” he told Gevin when he asked about their number.

Gevin quickly ended the archery class, put the garrison guards on alert and had everyone go inside until it became clear who the riders were and their purpose.   Troem and Zaeya were still gathering clay with a group of men, but he had Nevon and all of Applemint’s family go into the garrison fort.

“Do you think they’ll give us trouble, sir?”  Applemint asked, having forgotten his request to have her address him just by his given name.  

“I don’t know --  twenty is not enough to take the fort, but who knows if they have a larger camp a few miles away.   I want them to get the impression that we have a sizeable number of people in the garrison fort.   Go tell your family to pretend to be garrison servants that are very busy doing chores as if there is a lot to do.   Have them run past, perhaps carrying something, when I’m talking to those riders.   Stagger them so it looks like there are people running around everywhere and that we are very busy, and get some of the humans that came with them from Greidour to do the same thing.”

“Okay, I’ll get right on it!”  Apple hiked up her dress and ran off to pass on his instructions.

Gevin took Nevon and three guards and situated himself in the audience hall of the garrison keep and waited.

It wasn’t long before the band of men arrived.   All of them wore armor and carried weapons and looked as if they had been reconnoitering the countryside all day.   They rode directly toward the garrison keep, all of the men glancing around at everything as they passed.    At the gate of the fort they demanded to see the garrison commander (but not by name) and eleven men were led to see Gevin as the other ten stayed with their horses in the garrison courtyard, eyed warily by the handful of garrison guards remaining.

As they entered, Gevin recognized the leader as Lord Phane, the teenaged oldest son of Earl Cetiline that had personally murdered the two young sons of King Corston in cold blood.   The cocky young man started upon seeing Sir Gevin, fully armored in the enchanted plate armor, seated on the dais glaring at him with accusing eyes that seemed to hint that the damned Half-Elf somehow knew why he was here.

With a quick glance to verify that his men were behind him, he puffed out his chest and strode up to the dais.

“Sir Gevin, is this where you have fled to?   Well my father is in charge of Greidour now and all of you will submit to me in his name and surrender this fort!” he said arrogantly.

“You worthless whelp of a child, you and your men will lay their weapons down and prostrate yourselves before me and beg for mercy for your lives for the murder of your king’s heirs, or not one of you criminals will leave this fort alive!”   Before the startled youth could answer, Gevin leaped up and pulled his sword from its scabbard, the blade glowing bright white.   Nevon and his guards also drew their weapons.

The boy and his men stepped backwards in alarm at the unexpected aggressiveness and the display of magic weaponry.   But youthful bravado and superior numbers steeled him quickly and he pulled out his sword.

“Half breed freak!”  He yelled as he lunged at Gevin.   But the nobleman’s son was not well trained and like most murderers or bullies, relied on superior size or number to dominate.   Gevin easily parried aside the boy’s clumsy attack, knocking his sword aside and knocking him off balance.    Phane did not expect Gevin to be able to move so quickly in full plate armor - for the magic armor was as light as regular clothing in weight- and he did not expect him to swipe with lightning speed at his neck.   A moment later the magic sword had slashed through his mail and doublet.    Blood spurted everywhere as Phane’s head flopped backwards, held on his neck only by the back of the cap of his doublet.    Before the dead teen’s body hit the floor, Gevin had spun and engaged the slightly older man next to him.    He managed to deflect Gevin’s savage blow with his sword, but as he reared back to counter with his own stroke, Gevin chopped into a gap in his shoulder armor.   

The enchanted blade, which retained a razor sharp edge, took the man’s arm off clean and he sank to the floor screaming and trying to stop the flow of blood with his remaining arm.

Two behind the injured man tried to flank the Half-Elf from separate sides, while Nevon and his three guards fought the other seven.

“GUARDS!” Gevin yelled loudly so the garrison soldiers out in the courtyard could hear him, “LOWER THE PORTCULLIS!   ARREST THE RIDERS!”

One of his opponents tried to sever Gevin’s head from his body in the same manner that he had dispatched Lord Phane, but his frantic aiming and Gevin’s enchanted armor caused the man’s blow to hit the Half-Elf in the upper back, glancing off.   He feigned turning to face this opponent, then suddenly reversed and caught his other foe off guard, running the sword into his gut, the magic blade cutting through his mail as if it was thin linen.

Ripping his blade free, he found the other man had lost his nerve and was running as quickly as his armor would allow, toward the door to the courtyard.

But at that moment the door burst open and there stood Mangle Pondertort, his two oldest sons, his father Tamfeld and daughter Applemint, all armed with their short bows.

Applemint reacted first, taking quick aim and sending an arrow into the stomach of the man fleeing.   The arrow penetrated his mail and as he staggered forward, Mangle send a second shaft through the man’s left eye.

Nevon had brought down one of his opponents, but one of the garrison commander’s three men had been grievously injured and was sprawled out on the stone floor.

Six of their foes were uninjured and were trying to press Nevon and his two guards back.    Gevin went to their defense as the Halflings formed a line in front of the door with their bows drawn.

One of Nevon’s men was cut down as Gevin advanced, but he attacked the man and killed him.

“Drop your weapons!”  Gevin demanded of Lord Phane’s men, but they were too desperate and afraid to think rationally and perhaps they expected only dire consequences from King Corston’s knight champion for their part in the death of the king’s heirs.

Pressing Gevin, Nevon and the last of his guards backwards, the five men had no clear strategy, for they were ignoring the Halflings behind them.

“Careful aim!” Tamfeld told his kin, all of them skilled archers, and the Halflings complied, awaiting the older Halfling’s order.

“Mind our Lord and his men…steady, aim for their upper legs…fire!”

A volley of arrows zipped through the air, two of the five finding the back calves of Phane’s men.    One of the injured men dropped his guard as he reacted to the wound and Nevon’s guard cut him down.   A moment later, Gevin’s sword had ended the life of another man.

It was too much for the remaining injured man and his two uninjured companions and they turned and bolted toward the door, hoping to simply mow down the Halflings as they charged at them.

Mangle and his son Cal shot one of the men, killing him with two arrows in his chest.   Devin sent a shaft through the shoulder of the injured man and he collapsed in agony.    Finally, Applemint and her grandfather Tamfeld challenged the remaining man to surrender, but when he didn’t comply and continued toward them, each sent an arrow through an eye of the man.   He groaned and fell to the floor. 

Of Phane’s men, only two seriously injured men remained, one close to bleeding out.   

“Everyone alright?”  Gevin called out to his people, noticing Applemint vomiting in reaction to the gory result of her arrow shot as her grandfather comforted her, “Tend to our men and then to Phane’s injured, I’m going to try to stop the rest of his band.”

 

He rushed out into the courtyard to find a scene of battle already in motion.   Phane’s ten men had remained in the saddle, but had been charged with holding the reins of their party that had gone inside the hall.

When the sounds of fight came from the hall, followed quickly by Gevin’s yelling for the guards to lower the portcullis, the riders sprung into action.   But there was a bit of confusion amongst them at first whether to unhorse and join Lord Phane, secure the garrison courtyard of the guards, or flee out of it before the portcullis was dropped.

That, plus the added burden of caring for their companions’ steeds made them hesitate in indecision just long enough for Gevin’s orders to be complied with, the portcullis dropping firmly across the only exit.

They released the reins of the other horses and drew their weapons, remaining on horseback as they believed it was a superior strategic vantage point, even in the cramped courtyard, surrounded by guards on the parapet wall.

By a quick vote, they decided their first course of action was to raise the gate blocking their escape, so they rode toward the guards surrounding the raising mechanism.   Though they far outnumbered them, the garrison men were supported by other guards on the parapet and before they could reach the mechanism, arrows began whistling past them from all directions.

Still they pressed their attack, knocking away the garrison guards’ pole arms and driving them away with blows from swords and maces.

The guards held their ground though, one dying by the hand of Phane’s men.    But the arrows began to find their mark.   Though none of Phane’s men were hit directly or more than slightly injured from them, their unarmored horses were not so lucky.

Several poorly aimed shots connected with the flanks of the riders’ horses and the steeds flinched and reared, for they were not trained warhorses used to the frequent (but usually non lethal) prick of missiles.

Their reaction panicked the loose horses of the men in the hallway fighting with Lord Phane and they became desperate to escape, but the portcullis blocked their path.

They whinnied and raced around, some hit when they ran into the path of arrows shot from the wall, and their terror made the horses of the ten riders in the courtyard unruly and afraid.    

The attempt to secure the portcullis lifting mechanism began to crumble as the riders struggled to keep their terrified horses under control.

This was the situation when Gevin burst out of the audience hall into the courtyard.

In front of him, one of the riders was thrown off his bucking horse and fell close at hand.   

“You’re beaten, surrender at once!”  Gevin demanded as he advanced upon the man, but he stumbled to his feet, still holding his mace and with a snarl charged at the Half-Elf.   Gevin dodged his frantic and wild swings, then slashed at the man’s mid arm as he reared back to swing again.    As usual, his enchanted sword bit deep and the rider screamed in pain, his arm going limp as Gevin’s sword cut through most of it.

Wild with terror, the man backed away and suddenly was run over by one of the crazed riderless horses.    The horse stumbled yet kept his footing, but only after stomping on the injured man’s chest and head, killing him.

By now some of the other Halflings and a few of the townspeople who had trained with bows earlier in the day (and were still in the keep when Phane’s men arrived), came onto the parapet wall through the second floor stairs in the garrison armory, and they were all armed with short and long bows.    Gevin was impressed at how coolly and professionally they all spread out around the parapet, supplementing the guards already present and quickly notching their arrows.

Gevin tried to yell for Phane’s men to lay down their arms and surrender, but his voice could not be heard over the chaos.    As he was yelling, one of the horsemen rode up from behind him and was prepared to club him over the head with his horseman’s mace, but he was killed with four arrows fired from several angles and instead slumped over the neck of his horse and toppled off behind the Half-Elf knight.

Just as he was turning to see what had happened, Gevin caught sight of Troem and Zaeya running across the parapet wall and yelling down something that he couldn’t hear over the battle.   But by their wild hand gestures, he determined that he should get out of the center of the courtyard.    He moved back and saw the Drow lady chanting something that only took a few seconds.   Both of her hands suddenly were covered by pink globes and she pointed each arm toward pockets of riders in the courtyard below.

Twin bolts of pink energy shot forth from the globe and each of these bolts then suddenly forked off into two more bolts before all four slammed into the chests of four of the remaining mounted riders.     Each man was knocked off his horse upon impact with the bolts and fell to the ground dead with his chest smoldering from the energy of the blasts.

The remaining four men were now wild with terror and desperate to escape.   One man leaped from his horse and ran toward the portcullis lifting mechanism, but encountered the two guards still holding their ground.    They slashed and poked at him with their poleaxes and yet he tried to push through, but an arrow fired by Troem (who had grabbed a bow and quiver of arrows as he followed Zaeya through the armory) pierced his heart and he immediately died.

The other three decided to abandon their horses and run for the armory, probably thinking they could take the stairs to the parapet wall and then risk broken limbs leaping from the second story to the freedom out of the garrison fort.

One man was killed with at least six arrows sticking out of his back, but his death permitted the other two to make it to the building.   Gevin was already running after them, but had to dodge hysterical horses and dead bodies.

Yet he had nothing to worry about, because the defenders on the parapet wall were ready for them.    The archers formed a line facing the doorway leading out onto the wall, with the Halfling bowmen in front and the human archers and Troem with his bow standing behind them, shooting over their heads.

As soon as the first horseman burst forth, he was filled with arrows like a pincushion and died, his companion stumbling over him.   Wild-eyed, the man just rushed to the side of the parapet and vaulted over it, screaming as he fell the twenty feet to the ground below.

The fall didn’t kill him, but he broke both of his legs which he learned to his horror as he tried to get to his feet and failed.  The portcullis was raised and some guards ran out to take him prisoner, but were mortified to find that the panicked man had committed suicide with his own dagger rather than be taken alive.

 

Gevin stood there in the middle of the courtyard, numbly watching as guardsmen worked to calm the terrified horses.    Twenty dead men, all Earl Cetiline’s men.   Worse than that, the twenty-first man was none other than Lord Phane, Cetiline’s oldest son.

All of the fort’s defenders gathered around him soon and he explained who Phane was and what he’d done and why.   All agreed that a murderer of children did not deserve mercy, regardless if those kids were princes or peasants.

“How many of our men did we lose?”  He asked Nevon.

“Four are dead and another four are seriously injured, but probably not fatal, according to Tom Snowwe.   One of Phane’s men is still alive, but his injuries look critical and he is unconscious.   The rest are dead.”

“Now we’ll have the attention of Earl Cetiline and Baron Dellye,”  Gevin replied, shaking his head grimly, “I didn’t see any other way - they wanted us to surrender the fort and from the treatment that King Corston’s young sons received, I had no doubt they’d be ruthless here as well.”

“It might not be so bad,” Troem spoke as he assisted Applemint in seeing to a sword cut that one of the garrison guards had sustained, “None of them got away, so Cetiline won’t know what happened.”

“True, but he’ll know where they were heading, and it won’t take him long to send out another party looking for them.    We defeated twenty one men at the cost of four of our own, but if Cetiline sends out two hundred, we won’t fare that well.”

“We need to prepare, lord,”  Mangle told him as he glanced around at those who had defended the keep, “Look what we were able to do - many of our defenders only were trained in archery for a day, yet they bravely held their own.”

Gevin nodded, “Yes, they did and it was extremely impressive to see.   I commend all of you; you all performed like seasoned archers.   I agree that we need to prepare, Mangle and of course we’ll do that, but what we really need is advanced warning of who is approaching so we’ll know what to expect.”

Everyone turned to Zaeya who seemed rather flattered at their need of her.

“Let me think about that for a while,” She replied, smiling, and Gevin was pleased to see that the Dark Elf seemed to be enjoying having so much to do now.

“The main threat is from the road south,”  Gevin told them.

“What about the Elves, lord?”  Applemint asked as she bandaged the injured man’s arm.   She still seemed a bit drawn after experiencing battle in the audience hall, but he knew she’d be alright.

“Well, hopefully they’ll see us more favorably,”  he turned to Troem, “How long do you think it will take them to respond to my proposal?”

“If they’re encamped where I imagine, probably a week.   If they get wind of what happened here and how we defeated some of Cetiline’s men, they might be more positive about helping us.”

“Let’s hope so.    We’ll have to decide what to do with Phane and his men’s bodies.   I’d like to talk to that last man before he dies.”

“No need, lord,” the voice of Andrie Pondertort came from somewhere behind him, “He just died a few minutes ago.   My mother and I tried to keep him alive, but he was too far gone.   Sorry.”

“Thanks for trying, Andrie.   Well, we’ll not know if there are any more camped nearby or if this was all.”

“They probably would have a camp close by, since they came here so late in the afternoon,”  Nevon said, “It would likely be located somewhere due south of here.”

“Why so?”

“They’d want water for their horses and the Coldrun is the only stream close to the road, so I’d guess they’d camp near it and it runs directly south of the fort.”

“That’s logical; I think we need to find out.    But I don’t want to endanger any more of our garrison or civilians if we do come across their camp.   I’m going to ride out myself.”

Applemint stood up and began walking away.

“Where are you going?” Gevin asked.

“I’m going with you, but I can’t ride in a dress, so I’ll change into some pants.”

“I never said you were going along!”

“I never asked for your permission either, Your Grace,” She replied with a mischievous grin before turning and hurrying off.  

Gevin glanced over to Mangle and he nodded though he looked a bit strained.

“Mangle, do you want to join us?”

“I do, but I suspect it will offend my daughter if I tag along, so instead I’ll just volunteer to take care of Phane and his men’s bodies.    What do you want to do with them?”

“Strategically, we should burn them and hide their armor and weapons, just in case Cetiline sends someone scouting for the lost party.   But burning their bodies seems a bit cruel.   What is everyone’s opinion?”

Those assembled spoke up and to Gevin’s surprise, all of them were for it, reminding him of the tales from long ago that said for a long time most followers of Yesh were cremated after death and then the ashes were buried.   Encouraged that it would not be a disgrace, Gevin ordered Phane and his men cremated and their ashes buried a distance away from Woodedge.   Their clothing and personal items were burned with them, with the exception of weapons, for the garrison needed all they could get.   Their horses were cared for and all quickly recovered from their arrow wounds.

 

It was shortly after suppertime, still a few hours before dark when Gevin was prepared to go searching for Phane’s camp.   Applemint had changed into riding leathers and rode Dart while he took Thallow.

He was actually quite pleased to have her with him away from everyone, though the importance of the ride kept it from actually being a pleasant diversion.

“Are you feeling better?” he asked her as they left the village and began canvassing the area between the southern rode and the meandering Coldrun stream.

“Yeah, I’m okay; I just can’t think about what I did.”

“I understand, it is always difficult at first.”

“Does it ever get easier to kill someone?”

“No, but you realize that unfortunately it is necessary.”

“I can’t help but wonder how many of those men had families.”

“Probably most of them.   But they threw their lot in with a murderer and you can’t root with the swine and not expect to get dirty.”

“Yeah, I know you’re right, lord,” She sighed wearily, “I guess I’m not cut out for the adventurous life.”

“Well, you’ve done fine recently, Apple.”

“Thanks…I don’t even remember last night, all that my mom and grandma would tell me was that I got really drunk and tried to skinny dip in the millpond.    Can you believe that?”

“Drinking can make a person do crazy things.   Do you remember any of it?”

Applemint shook her head, “Not a bit…I sort of remember throwing up…or something…and mom and grandma walking me home…but even that seems almost like a dream.  Yesh have mercy, if anyone other than my family would have seen me, I would have simply died.”

Gevin just nodded and kept silent.

“So what did you do, lord?   You left the party early, didn’t you?   I don’t even remember most of it after the dancing.”

“Yeah, I was tired so I took a bath and went to bed.”

“Probably the wisest thing to do.”

“Yeah.”

“So how far do we look for their camp?”

“I’d say three or four miles would suffice; they may not have set up one, especially if they planned to simply ride into Woodedge and take over.   But we should check.”

“Lord, are you worried about Earl Cetiline coming after you if he finds out about his son?”

“I’d be foolish not to be worried, but sooner or later we’ll have to fight a large scale battle to keep Woodedge free.   Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll be able to manage it, but I intend to try, rather than choose sides with some of those nobles who are out to kill each other.”

“So…will you actually assume the responsibilities of a duke if Woodedge can defeat Earl Cetiline for good?”

“No, I’m hoping some of the Elves will want to take Albsidhe back and restore it as an Elven kingdom again, but will allow us to simply live there among them.”

“They may not be interested, sir.”

“I suspect that they will be sooner or later; Elves are deeply drawn to their land and have a sense of oneness with their homeland.    I think they’ll want to regrow the forest and try to restore the glory of the old days.”

“Is that even possible?”

“I don’t know; perhaps, but they may make it into something new and better.   I just hope they decide to work with us and not try to eliminate us first.   Our situation is precarious to say the least.”

“So…what would you do then if the Elves did set up their kingdom again and allowed all of us to live among them?”

Gevin shrugged, “I don’t know; maybe train young men as knights.    I’d like a better quality of character from their young people than what we witnessed with Crois.”

“He’s not beyond hope, lord.   You know that he could have told his father that he wanted him to kill you and I think he would have tried.”

“Yes, but the boy’s guilt or perhaps what I said or Zaeya’s ‘holy glow’ convinced him to listen and hesitate to enact revenge.   He may eventually grow into a fine young man.  I honestly hope so; I want to believe there is hope for the future.”

“So…you said you’d train knights…what else would you do?”

“Oh, I don’t know…live simply, probably.   I’d like a place like Oakfield, only smaller, more of a cottage in the country, I think, but that’s just an idea.”

“You know that you have your whole life in front of you now.”

“Well, I do thanks to you!   If you hadn’t been so nosy, I’d probably be dead by now.    I owe you my life, Apple.”

She turned and glanced at him, “Really?”

“Yes, most definitely.”

“Then…if I were to request a favor from you…”

“Sure; what is it?”

She hesitated, and to his surprise, blushed and stammered, “Um…I…uh…I need a job.”

“A job?   You have a job; you’re my secretary, remember?”

She smiled, “Yes, but if you were to resign as duke, then you’d probably not need me any more.”

“Why not?”

She looked surprised, “Um…well, I-I thought that…you just needed some help…you know, to keep up with everything.  Appointments, schedules, things like that - secretary things.   If you are a retired country gentleman, you’ll be living the life of leisure.”

“Oh, I doubt it will be that peaceful and lethargic.  So you’d like to continue serving me as an assistant?”

“Well…not exactly…” She couldn’t look at him and he could tell that she was red faced, even though the sun was almost finished setting in the west.

Before he could ask another question, Thallow suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, his ears laid back and his head turned slightly to the left.   A moment later, Dart did the same, pulling in close to the larger horse.

“What is it?” Applemint whispered.

“I don’t know; they sense something over there,” he nodded toward a wider place between the Coldrun and the road, where the river diverged slightly to the west before returning to a southerly route.   A short distance from the road, in the bend of the river, were a series of six round hills that seemed perfectly evenly spaced.    They were covered with grass and on the summit of one of the six that was slightly higher than the others, a few white oak trees grew.   The hills were not tall, perhaps sloping up to about twenty feet in height and maybe fifty feet wide each.    The two horses were staring at the hills like a hunting dog ‘on point’.

Then they saw it, a single figure, cloaked in flowing white, standing halfway up the highest hill, staring at them.    Gevin and Applemint just returned the stare for a full minute, unsure who or what they were actually seeing.   

“Another ghost?”  Applemint whispered finally, thinking of the apparitions they’d seen at the haunted inn.

“It’s a woman…I think…but there is a…glow…about her.”

“What do you think she wants?”

As if answering Applemint’s question, the strange woman turned and slowly climbed to the top of the hill.   Her hair flowed out from behind her as if a strong breeze was blowing, yet the air was still.   Halfway to the summit of the hill, she turned back to them and beckoned to them, then resumed her climb.

“Oh…we’re not going to go see what she wants…are we?”  Applemint asked, but she was already preparing to climb out of the saddle.

“We won’t know unless we see,” Gevin replied as he dismounted.

“This could be a ruse, perhaps bandits hoping to lure us into a trap?”

“Maybe, but if it is, they have some impressive magic to make her glow like that, so they’ll probably just try to get us some other way.   We’re better off playing by her rules for right now; she doesn’t seem threatening.”

“Not until we get into her lair and then about ten vampires attack us and suck us all dry of blood.”  Applemint wound Dart’s reins around a tree trunk as Gevin had and then she came over to him and took his hand.

“Yes, I’m scared, lord, even after all the things we’ve been through the past couple of days.   I figure if I’m holding your hand and I get too scared and try to run away like a child, you will keep me from going too far.”

“Unless I’m running with you,” Gevin joked, more than happy to share her touch.

“Why don’t you pull out your sword and maybe the light it produces will keep all the undead away.”

“What is this fixation with undead things?”

“Well, aren’t those burial mounds?”

“They look like them, but this used to be Elven territory, so if they are, they’ll be Elven burials,” Gevin told her.

“Then we’ll have Elven vampires after us - but I’m not at all prejudiced, I’m scared of the undead of all races equally.”

“Do you have any weapons?”

“Only a sharp knife, but I have something far better.”

“What?”

“Feet that like to run fast when necessary.”

“We need to get you something to use other than a short bow.”

“How about sharpened stakes?”

“Will you stop talking about vampires!   She might just be a sorceress or something.”

“-With minions that are undead…”

“Apple!”

“Sorry, lord.”

“Let’s go see what she wants.”

“Our blood…”

“Apple!”

“Okay, I’ll shut up…”

Her hand firmly clamped in his, they walked across a small field covered with evening dew and approached the hills that could be burial barrows. 

“I’m too scared to look; is she still up there?”

“I think so; she’s waiting for us.”

“Waiting for us…” Apple groaned.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

“Oh, I know that, but who will protect you?”

“Well, you might start trusting in Lord Yesh, you know.”

“Yeah, if he was here holding onto my other hand, I’d not be scared at all.”

“Seriously, Apple; you know what Woodedge really needs?   A church.   So few people seem to be devout anymore.   I’ve never been as faithful as I should be, but you know how the King’s chapel was at Whiteberry - knights making eyes at their friend’s ladies while a bored old drunken priest mumbled words that he no longer believed.   Church should be different than that.”

“I’m all for it; I think all my family would be thrilled, Lord.   I don’t know what the garrison or village folk think, but I suspect they’d like to get reacquainted with the Lord…especially if we have vampires as next door neighbors.”

“Shh; she might be able to hear you, let’s not offend her.   That’s why I’ve not drawn my sword, I want her to see that we come peacefully.”

“Like lambs to the slaughter…”

“Apple!” he now whispered the rebuke, for they were halfway up the hill and both could now see the figure of a woman standing watching them from the summit.   She was certainly not alive, for everything about her glowed a rather peaceful pale bluish glow.   She was somehow slightly indistinct in appearance, almost as if she had a nearly transparent veil covering her, but there was a sad regal air about her as she waited for them.    Applemint’s sweaty hand tightened in Gevin’s grasp.

“Relax…smile and stay calm…” he murmured to her as they neared the summit.   But as they did, she turned and walked over to the lone tree and then seemed to slowly sink into the hill.

Applemint let out a timid peep and tried to stop in her tracks, but she allowed Gevin to pull her forward.    As they neared, she was gone, but there was revealed some stone stairs cut into the rock of the hillside, descending into what probably was a tomb.   The lady’s light could be seen emanating from the room below.

“Oh, lord…no, no…we don’t want to go down there…please!”  Applemint groaned.

“You can wait out here if you want to.”

“Damnit, you are so bull-headed!” she exclaimed, so scared that she forgot herself.

“She wants us to see something, Apple.”

“Well, obviously!   Probably the inside of her mouth as she sinks her fangs in our necks!”

“She’s not a vampire, Apple; if anything she is a ghost.”

“Oh, that helps!   There are too many of those things up in these parts, sir!”

“How do you know she isn’t benign?”

“Well, how do you know that she’s not?”

“I mean you no harm…” A distinguished woman’s voice came from the stairs and they spun around to find her hovering over the entranceway.

She was dressed as if for her wedding, in a long, beautiful white dress with a long train that was draped into the entranceway.   Apple was too terrified to scream or move and just stared at her like a rabbit caught in the sight of a nearby wolf.

“In the name of Yesh the Almighty, who are you and what do you want with us?”  Gevin invoked the name of God, remembering the scripture that evil had to submit to His holy name.

“My name is Ylvelia, I appear to you to give a gift that will help to unite the scattered Elves with the humans and little folk in this shattered land.”

“Are you a spirit, Ylvelia?”  Gevin asked.

“What you see is an arcane projection of myself from long ago when Albsidhe was a great kingdom.   A vision was given to me of a time when great destruction and pain had befallen this land.   I was given the chance to contact the one responsible for some of the grief, for it has been revealed to me that he shall repent of his sins and will be the catalyst of restoration and peace.”

Gevin glanced at Applemint and then back to Ylvelia and hung his head, “You are looking at him now.”

“I know that,” She replied with surprising gentleness, “You have already begun the process of restoration.”

“I’m trying to, but I fear the Elven people won’t trust me or believe my good intentions.”

“You shall provide them with proof of your sincerity.”

“Such as what?”

“Follow the stairway cut into this hill and you will find a tomb.   There I will provide something that will gain their trust.”

“We can’t rob a tomb.”

“You are not robbing it; I am giving it to you.”

“But this is still someone’s tomb, m’lady.”

“It is my tomb and I lie inside.   I will give something of my own, but not to you.”

“Oh?”

“Your companion; she shall receive the gift, for though she is of the small folk, I sense that she too is of Elven stock.   What is your name, young woman?”

Applemint gave a terrified look at Gevin, who nodded and she finally said in a small voice, “Applemint Pondertort.”

“Applemint Pondertort, Elven blood flows through your veins, as it does through he who will restore this Kingdom.   Both of you come below and I will give you a sign the Elves will accept.”

“Can’t you give it to me up here?”  Applemint asked and the spirit laughed, a very pleasant sound.

“Young woman, I am projecting my spirit 1,200 years into my future, but I have no physical form in your time.   Powerful magic has warded my tomb since my death -and all that I hope is that those responsible for my burial when I died placed everything exactly where I instructed them to put them.   I am not a baneful spirit or demon, I too believe in Yesh the Merciful and in the name of Yesh, I swear my good intentions.”

“You are speaking to us from 1,200 years in the past?”

“Yes, the magic is complex and difficult to explain, but when I cast this spell I was alive - I am alive as I speak this to you, but the magic projects my words forward in time to you, just as it projects your replies backward in time to me.  It also acts as a scrying device and I was shown a summary of all that transpired between my time and yours after I asked specific details to clarify the vision that was given to me.”

“So this is like a portal between periods of time?”  Applemint asked.

“Yes, that is quite accurate - a small hole in the fabric of time that we can speak through.   But the magic is limited and I won’t be able to keep this spell going for much longer, so please follow my instructions.”

Applemint glanced up at Gevin and nodded.

“Alright, we’re putting our trust in you, Lady Ylvelia.”

“Thank you; follow me,”  The apparition hovered for a moment over the entrance and then seemed to walk down the stone stairs.   Gevin and Applemint followed her, the Halfling girl’s hand tightly clutching his.

They were surprised to find the tomb lit by some sort of magic that gave it a pleasant orange glow like a comforting fireplace.   The crypt was unbelievably clean as if it had been finished earlier that day, and no sign of decay or the passing of time was evident.   In the center of the crypt was a raised stone platform with an extraordinary sarcophagus of the purest alabaster imaginable.   It was carved to resemble a graceful but regal bed and on the lid reclined the amazing statue of a beautiful Elven woman done in intricate detail.   It looked as if she could wake up at any moment and Gevin and Applemint, despite their nervousness, could only stare in awe at the work of art for a few moments.   The statue of the reclining woman did not wear a crown or tiara, but it was obvious that she was some sort of royalty.

“This is you,”  Gevin spoke to Ylvelia’s apparition. 

“Yes,” She said a bit sadly, “Like all of the Elven blood, I did not age, but from what I learned through this spell, I was murdered by a rejected suitor.”

“Were you a princess?” Applemint asked, still staring at the statue in wonder.

“I was queen of my people for only a short time - perhaps ten years- but apparently my reluctance to marry caused my death.   It is odd to speak of it, for in my time, it has not yet occurred.”

“Can’t you prevent it from happening now that you know what will occur?” Gevin asked the spirit.

“Sadly, no.   As soon as this spell ends, all the knowledge will fade from my mind, except for a feeling that I was successful in my reason for casting the spell.   That was to contact the one I saw in my vision of the future, who had destroyed Albsidhe.”

“That would be me,” Gevin replied with remorse.

“Yes, but I was shown the reasons in this spell and I understand - for now- though afterwards I will not know any details any more, only a feeling of satisfaction and peace that all will be well.    Hopefully that will suffice for me.”

“Queen Ylvelia, I swear to you that I will do all that I can to make Albsidhe an Elven kingdom again.   But I hope that there will be some peaceful humans and of course Halflings living amongst them.”

The apparition nodded, “There were in my time too, and they lived in perfect harmony with my people.   It is the way of God for races to live in peace.   You will have a lot of work to do, Gevin, yet do your best and you will redeem yourself for past mistakes.   But take heart, for not all the burden falls upon you.   Applemint, the gift I have is for you, and it is not a trinket or simple memento, but something precious to me and enchanted.   Before I give it, I must ask you of your intentions.    Will you stand beside Gevin in restoring Albsidhe?  If you do, you will share his fate and perhaps his success.”

Applemint was as pale as the sarcophagus.  She stared at first the ‘ghost’ floating in front of her and then at the statue of her, but only hesitated a moment.

“Yes, I will stand with him.”

“I knew that you would.”

“You did?”

“Yes; a great lineage will descend from you.   They will rule Albsidhe for many generations.”

“From me?  They’ll descend from me?   That can’t be right!  What about Sir Gevin?  I thought maybe he’d rule.   What about him?”

The apparition of Queen Ylvelia laughed, “Dear girl, I speak of his descendants as well.   Why do you think I am speaking to both of you?”

Applemint swallowed hard and nervously glanced at Gevin, who returned the same surprised and uneasy glance.

“Do not be afraid; you shall have a daughter that will unite the three races of Albsidhe together, for she will have human, Elven and Halfling blood.”

“Oh boy, my father is not going to believe this at all!” Applemint mumbled, smiling weakly at Gevin, then turning back to the apparition.

“What will be will be,”  Ylvelia said, “The future is not set, however, and what I have prophesized can be overcome by your desire to change it, but it will change everything else as well.”

“I understand…I think,”  Applemint replied.

“My time grows short, for this spell is nearly spent.   In my tomb there should be an alabaster coffer near where you are.”

Gevin and Applemint glanced around and sure enough, at the foot of the ‘bed’ was a three foot wide alabaster chest.

“We found it,” Gevin told her.

“Good!  The chest is enchanted.   It is indestructible, unmovable and impossible to open, except by those that I appoint.   I gave my younger sister permission to carry it and place it where it is now located, but she was not given the right to open it.   Applemint Pondertort, I give you and Gevin permission to move it and open it and to pass it down to your descendants alone.   It appears heavy, but it is enchanted and as light as a linen garment.  Take the coffer from this tomb and open it in private, with just the two of you present.    What is inside is specifically for Applemint and it will pass to your daughter.   You will know when that time comes.   Take it from this tomb and leave quickly, for once you are gone, this tomb will seal in the same manner as the coffer.”

“Will this help win the trust of the Elves?”  Gevin asked.

“You will see - what is inside will be known to any Elf who has heard of the history of Albsidhe and they will know of it.    Now take the coffer and leave and may Yesh bless both of you.”

As quickly as a candle being blown out, the apparition of the Elven queen faded away, and as if responding to it, the magic lights of the tomb flickered once.

For a few moments Applemint and Gevin just stared at where the ghostly image had floated, but she was gone.

“Was all that real?”  Applemint asked him finally.

“Yes, since we both heard it.   Well, we’d best do what she said.   Let’s see if the coffer is as light as she claimed.” 

The coffer was as light as a feather, though it was a bit bulky in size, yet Gevin scooped it up and carried it out of the tomb, with Applemint closely following.

“It should strap to the back of my horse; I have rope in my saddlebags.   We should take it back to Woodedge and open it in private as she told us.”

“I still can’t believe we actually experienced that, lord.   How could she have possibly spoken to us from another period of time?   Can that be possible?”

“I don’t know, Apple, but we certainly encountered someone that seemed real and this magic chest is solid enough, so I guess we should believe it.

 

Gevin carefully descended the barrow hill; though the chest was nearly weightless, he didn’t want to stumble and drop it.   Both were relieved when they’d returned to their horses.    It was now completely dark and no trace remained of their encounter with the ghostly queen, except for an alabaster chest that Gevin firmly secured behind the saddle of his horse.

“Let’s get back to the fort; I doubt there is any camp to be found and I’m sure you’re going crazy to find out what she has for you inside this chest.”

Applemint nodded as she mounted her horse, “Could this be some sort of elaborate trap?   Perhaps she wasn’t who she said she was and maybe she just said all of that to us to entice us to do what she said.”

“I don’t think so, Apple.   She didn’t seem threatening or evil to me and we weren’t riding around looking for tombs to loot.”   After one last check of the ropes securing the chest, Gevin slipped into the saddle and they started back the way they came, at a slower pace due to the darkness.




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on December 2, 2020
Last Updated on December 2, 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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