Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season
Chapter 1: Alliances and Intrigue
The party had been unceremoniously dumped into the Penderbun River in the middle of the town of Lukescros. It was not, however, immediately apparent to those who had not been to this town before, exactly where they were. All they saw was what looked like a rather sprawling town on one side of the river and a treed shoreline on the other. But in actuality, that treed shoreline was the central island in the town of Lukescros which was the site of the annual Harvest Fest Faire, and the home to the Bardic College of Hoventire. The Penderbun River was actually split by this large island. Directly upriver from the companions was a huge stone bridge that straddled the river. They could see a fort on the one side, and later would come to find that there was a second fort on the other side of the bridge. The huge stone structured dominated the town and was one of its main attractions along with the annual faire and the Crystal Angel. The latter was a towering statue that is said to grant good luck to all who touch it and the dearest desires to those of pure heart. All in all, Lukescros was a rather large town housing around twelve hundred humans in it and around its outskirts.
The companions made their way to the populated shore and pulled themselves up out of the river. They were quite a sight, dripping wet as they were, and received numerous stares from the people passing by. They moved out away from the river and onto what seemed to be a main avenue. It was close to noon, and the street was filled with folks going about their daily business.
“We should really find someplace to go and change out of these wet clothes,” Elvisda commented as another passerby eyed them warily. “We are drawing too much attention like this.”
“There’s a rather nice inn not too far from here,” Andrella commented. “I believe it’s called the Bright Angel. Sometimes mother, father and I would rent out a tower there when we came to town for the Faire.” The Lady became teary eyed at the mention of her family. Lloyd moved over and put an arm around her. She looked up and smiled at the big man, leaning against him for comfort.
“I say we head there as quickly as possible,” Aksel decided. “Which way is it?” he asked Andrella. The young lady pointed down the avenue they were already on and said it was a few blocks down. The group took off in that direction at a brisk pace. Lloyd moved out front and made way for them through the throngs of people. One look at the towering man with the two huge swords strapped to his back was enough to move even the most oblivious of folks out of their path.
They reached the Bright Angel in just under fifteen minutes. It was a very elegant establishment, with marble columns in front and a large entryway adorned with a shining angel. The main inn was not overly large being only two stories high, but at the four cardinal corners were sizable towers, each easily as big as Peltar’s tower back in Restenford.
The companions entered into the main room and saw that the inside was just as stylish as the outside. The tables and chairs in here were quite ornate. And the people that were sitting at these tables seemed of a higher stature than your run of the mill townfolk. The bar at the back was stationed by multiple barkeeps all dressed up in fancy attire. Elvisda took the lead and made his way to what looked to be the manager of the inn.
“Good day my good fellow,” the bard said jauntily.
The innkeeper looked somewhat disdainfully at the current sad state of the bard’s attire and said, “Good day” rather grudgingly. He followed it quickly with, “We are not currently looking for any entertainers.”
“Neither are we,” Elvisda shot back immediately as he retrieved a bag from his belt and emptied some of its platinum contents into his palm. “I am the bard extraordinaire, Elvisda. And I am looking for fitting accommodations for myself and my entourage.”
The innkeeper eyes widened as he saw the platinum in the bard’s hand and his attitude immediately changed. “Ahhhh, the great bard Elvisda! Why of course. How rude of me not to recognize you immediately. I’m sure we can find something suitable for you and your entourage. We might not be able to put you in adjoining rooms however. We are rather booked with the Faire starting in a few days.”
“No, no,” Elvisda said admonishingly. “We are not looking for mere rooms. I need something far grander. How about one of those towers?” he said as he dropped a few more platinum coins into his palm.
The innkeeper gulped. Then he recovered his voice and said, “Why of course. I can give you the South tower. It has one main living area and three side rooms with the most comfortable beds.”
“Hmmm,” Elvisda thought for a moment. “I had my heart set on the north tower actually.”
“Oh, I’m sorry sir,” the innkeeper told him, “but that tower is the King’s tower and it is already taken.” When he saw the look of disappointment on the bar’s face he leaned forward and whispered, “Cassilla Nightbird is staying there sir. I’m really not supposed to tell anyone.”
“Cassilla you say?” Elvisda replied softly. “Well now, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” He took 4 plat out of his hand and gave it to the innkeeper. “Here take these and buy her some roses for me. I’ll write a note to go along with that if you have a quill handy.”
“Coming right up sir,” the innkeeper smiled handing the bard a quill and parchment. As Elvisda wrote his note to Cassilla, he continued his casual conversation with the man. “So who is in the other two towers then?”
“Well the East tower is currently occupied by the Knights of the Rose,” the man said softly. “Sir Stolay Bramblehew to be precise,” he told them as if to impress them. “The West tower, well, I really am not at liberty to say. I was sworn to secrecy.”
“Well I admire your discretion there friend,” Elvisda said approvingly. “I trust we can count on the same discretion from you concerning our stay here.”
“Of course,” the innkeeper said trying to look as sincere as possible. “And how long might that stay be?” he asked still eyeing all the platinum pieces the bard had laid on the bar.
“I was thinking of renting your tower for maybe…the next month,” Elvisda finished as he pushed some of the platinum pieces in front of the man.
“Absolutely!” the man said with joyful glee as he scooped up the coins the bard had passed to him. “This will more than cover it. Are you sure you don’t need some change?”
“No, no, my good man, that is fine. After all, what is money to a man like myself whose primary interest is the arts and entertainment? I am sure you will treat my companions and I with the utmost of care.”
“Of course!” the man agreed emphatically. “Anything you need. Anything at all!” Then he took out the key for the tower and said, “I’ll take you up to the South tower myself. This way ladies and gentlemen,” he said with a huge smile as he led them down the hall and up a flight of stairs to the tower.
The companions settled down and changed into dry clothes in the side rooms. Then they met in the main room and planned out what they would do next. Elvisda planned to go to the Bardic college in town to sign up for the Battle of the Bards at the upcoming fair. Lloyd wanted to go to the Penwick mansion in town. There they could find out any news and also enlist the aid of his townsfolk if need be. Glo decided to accompany him commenting that it would also be good to make Andrella’s presence known to the local Penwick dignitaries. Aksel and Seth in the interim wanted to see if they could find out who the secret guest was in the west tower. They all agreed to meet back at the tower to exchange information later that evening, then went on their separate missions.
Lloyd led Andrella and Glorfindel to the Penwick Mansion. It was across yet another bridge over on the eastern island. As the trio crossed the river, Glo noticed that this island was not heavily populated like the main island of Lukescros. In fact, it was quite lush with overgrowth and huge trees that must have been hundreds of years old. The young elf wizard felt a brief pang of homesickness as his mind wandered back to his home town of Cairthrellon and the Ruanaiaith forest which surrounded it.
As they continued down the now dirt road through the encroaching trees, they passed by a number of estates. Each one was walled in and set far back from view behind the trees. Lloyd explained that the island was a haven for royal dignitaries, especially at this time of year when the fair was approaching. But some towns, like Penwick and Dunwynn, inhabited one of the manors on a permanent basis. Luckily for them, they would not pass the Dunwynn manor as it was north of the Penwick one.
The trio finally approached the gates of the Penwick estate on the island. There were two guards stationed outside. They wore the red tabards of Penwick with the symbol of a Lion with two swords crossed behind it. The guards looked on curiously as the travelers approached. When they reached the pair, the warblade held his left arm up in front of him, bent at the elbow, his fist clenched, then raised his right arm and crossed it over his body, his right fist touching his left elbow. Both guards snapped to attention and repeated the same gesture in returned. “It’s the Penwick salute,” Lloyd whispered back over his shoulder to his companions.
Then one of the guards opened his eyes wide. “Why, if it isn’t the young Lord Stealle!” the man exclaimed. “Last we heard you had set out from Penwick to fight injustice in the world. What brings you back so soon?”
“Well…” Lloyd paused, “let’s just say that injustice has found its way back here.” Glo noted how skillfully the warblade had handled that one. Andrella must have agreed. The elf saw a brief smile flash across her face.
“Indeed it may be as you say,” the other guard replied. “We have heard strange tidings in the area of late. It seems that there have been undead sightings in the nearby town of Three Forks as of late. In fact, Lord Hightower sent out a contingent of Penwick troops to investigate a few days ago. We haven’t heard from them since.”
“That doesn’t bode well,” Glorfindel commented.
“Agreed,” Lloyd concurred. Then turning back to the guard, “Did you say Lord Hightower? Is he the current Lord of the manor?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” the guard replied. “Please, you and your guests follow me inside and I’ll go let him know that you are here.”
The guard led the three adventurers through the gate and up to Penwick mansion. It was a large building set atop a small hill. Dusk was setting in, but Glo could still make out the stone walls that made up the abode, as well as the ivy crawling up the sides of the building. Mansion was indeed the proper word as it was three stories high in the center and sprawled a good 250 feet from end to end and about 150 from front to back as far as the elf could estimate. Further, behind the main building were a multiple secondary ones including what the elf perceived to be stables as well as barracks for military personel. This was more of an encampment than an estate Glo thought to himself.
They were led up to the front entrance, which had a double doored entryway. The guard escorted them in and left them waiting in the main foyer, which was quite huge. It was a 30 foot round room with a double staircase up the back going up all three stories. The floor was marble and there were marble columns going all the way up to the ceiling some forty feet above their heads. In the center of the staircase hung a banner with the Penwick Lion and crossed swords on it.
As they waited, the house butler came up and offered to take their cloaks. They kindly obliged and were offered seats on some comfortable benches in the foyer. But they did not sit for long. A booming voice called down to them from the third floor staircase above. “By my word, if it isn’t the young master Lloyd Stealle!” The threesome looked upward and saw a man with grayish hair and a large black mustache staring down at them. Despite his age the man looked quite robust. He confirmed this first impression by practically running down the three flights of steps to meet them at the bottom.
“That’s Lord Hightower,” Lloyd whispered to the others. Then the warblade got up, Andrella and Glo following, and walked over to meet the man. Hightower came up to Lloyd and threw his arms around the younger man hugging him vigorously, nearly lifting the big warblade off the ground.
“It’s good to see you Lloyd!” Hightower expounded. “I was just in contact with your father the other day. They will be pleased to hear that you have returned.” Then the Lord looked around the big man and saw the young lady and robed elf accompanying him. “And who is this?” Hightower asked curiously.
“Oh, these are my companions, the Lady Avernos and the Wizard Glorfindel,” Lloyd answered. “We have some pressing business to discuss your Lordship. Can we retire to a more private setting?”
Hightower stepped back and appraised the young man approvingly. “Well!” he said finally. “I see you have done some growing up in these last few months.” He looked back at Andrella and Glo and said in a confidential manner, “I can remember barely getting two words out of this one not more than 6 months ago.”
Glorfindel smiled in response. “He has fallen under the tutelage of some very social companions of ours. They have obviously had a dramatic effect on our young friend here.”
Hightower smiled broadly in return. “Well then! I look forward to meeting the rest of your companions one of these days. But for now, let us adjourn as you say, to a more private setting.” He turned, putting his arm around Lloyd’s shoulder and began walking up the stairs with the young man. “Follow me,” Hightower said over his shoulder. Glo lent Andrella his arm and following close behind the two.
On the way up the stairs, Lloyd began asking questions about the wellbeing of his father and mother. “They’re just fine,” Lord Hightower replied. “They are both currently out with the fleet at Colossus Point. You know how your father is. He is in his glory when he is out at sea. And as for your mother, I am sure she is keeping an eye on him. That is, inbetween her experiments that is,” he finished with a laugh. Lloyd winced at that and Glo remembered the young man telling them about how his mother’s experiments were constantly blowing up their house.
“I hope they have taken adequate precautions on board if mother is experimenting at sea,” the warblade replied with concern.
“I am sure they are,” Hightower replied reassuringly. “The Lady Stealle has made a number of significant discoveries in the last few months that you have been gone. I can’t give you any specific details, but let us just say that our navy has never been better defended in the entire history of Penwick.”
Lloyd nodded his head, seemingly impressed. Glo silently wondered to himself what kind of defenses his wizard mother had discovered and employed to protect the ships of the Penwick fleet. But he was interrupted from his musings as they finally reached their destination.
Lord Hightower led them into the main room of his private chambers. It was a large room, 50 foot square, with a long table and chairs at one end, and a fireplace surrounded by a couch and a number of comfortable chairs at the other. There was also a desk, covered with papers, where his lordship obviously conducted his daily business. Hightower led them over to the more casual setting of the fireplace and bade them set down. Another butler came in and brought refreshments and a plate with breads and cheeses for them. He set it down on a table and left them to their private discussion.
Hightower, a glass of brandy in his hand, stood by the fireplace. He took a brief sip and then looked at the young warblade. “As we were saying, these are some troubled times young Lloyd. The fleet has been deployed in response to the advance of Dunwynn down the coast. And with what has happened in Restenford…” he trailed off. “Well, you should know. Grellus had sent word that you were there before his…untimely demise.”
Glo stole a look at Andrella. The young lady sat with her best diplomatic face on. There was no sign of the young girl who had been so upset at the loss of her father. No, this was a woman raised in a diplomatic environment who sat next to him now. Well versed in political intrigue, she showed no signs of the inner turmoil the elf knew she must be feeling at this moment.
Hightower continued to speak. “And there have been undead sightings in the town of Three Forks. I had sent a full contingent of men to investigate a few days ago. We lost all contact with them yesterday.” The Lord grew silent.
Lloyd stood up and relayed the story of what had happened in Restenford. The only detail he left out was that Andrella had left with them. Then Lloyd went into their dealings with the Princess of Lanfar. He detailed the ship, her retinue and dragons with a keen military precision that surprised Glorfindel. He was truly impressed with the young man’s analysis and assessment of the Princess’s capabilities.
Hightower was likewise impressed. “Excellent report my lad. I can see your father’s keen powers of observation and aptitude for strategy have been passed on to you. My only question then is has the entire royal family of Restenford been relocated to Dunwynn then? That would indeed be a shame.”
Lloyd looked over at Andrella who nodded to him. With that the warblade walked over to her and lent her his hand, helping her to rise. Then he turned and said to Hightower, “Not all your Lordship. It is my pleasure to present the Lady Andrella Avernos, Daughter of the Lord Grellus and Lady Fairwind of Restenford.”
Andrella curtsied perfectly and said, “Your Lordship.” Hightower raised an eyebrow at this unexpected development. Then he caught himself and walked over taking the young lady’s hand. He smiled warmly and said, “Lady Andrella. It is an honor to have you here among us. Please consider this mansion your home away from home. Your father and I were old friends and I’d like you to think of me as your Uncle.”
Hightower was charming. Andrella smiled in response and replied, “Why thank you…Uncle Hightower.”
The Lord blushed in spite of himself. Andrella definitely had a way about her. Then he recovered and said, “Lloyd Stealle you sly dog. Here you had the Lady Andrella right under my nose this whole time and without even batting an eye. Tell me, lad how did this come about.”
Lloyd smiled shyly and then began telling the story of how Andrella had ended up following them on their journey. When he was done, the Lord Hightower smiled knowingly. “Knowing Grellus as well as I did, I dare say he approved of this union of yours.”
Lloyd blushed and responded, “It’s not like that your Lordship. I love her!” Andrella looked at the warblade her eyes widening while Hightower and Glorfindel looked on with obvious amusement. Then the young girl quickly bridged the gap between the two of them, jumped up and threw her arms around the big man’s neck. As Lloyd caught her in mid air she kissed him soundly. Glorfindle and Hightower exchanged glances as broad smiles crossed their faces.
When the two love birds finally came up for air, Andrella gasped, “Oh Lloyd! I love you two!” The warblade blushed furiously as he realized he had blurted out his innermost feelings far sooner than he had intended. He did indeed love Andrella, but a declaration like that, at this point in their relationship, and in front of someone like Lord Hightower, was tantamount to a proposal. And Lloyd was far from ready to settle down. There was still much injustice in the world that had to be opposed and dealt with. And he was itching do led his large hands to the task. If he were to get married now, he might have to stop adventuring with his companions. And he was NOT ready for that at all.
The big man gently placed Andrella back down on the floor. Still holding her hand, they faced Hightower together. “You do realize that this young lady whom you are courting is the heir apparent to the Dunwynn throne?”
“I know your lordship,” Lloyd replied. “But I really don’t care about that. I love Andrella for who she is. Not for any title she owns now or might in the future.” Andrella squeezed Lloyd’s hand and wrapped herself around his arm. The young warblade’s sincerity and guilelessness ingratiated him even more to the young woman standing beside him as well as the man and elf before him. Hightower nodded approvingly. “Well, my boy. Your mother and father would be proud of you. I will send them tidings of your return this very evening. I daresay they will look forward to meeting you Andrella when time permits.” Andrella smiled warmly and replied, “I equally look forward to meeting them.”
Lloyd seemed a bit uncomfortable with this turn of the conversation. He cleared his throat and said, “There is still a lot we have to discuss Lord Hightower. All of the dealings we have had with the Dark Monolith, the Princess of Lanfar and the undead rising both here and farther north point to one conclusion…the Thrall Masters have returned.”
The room went silent for a long moment. Then the door to the chambers opened and a lyrical voice spoke from the entrance way. “What did I miss?” The group turned and saw the butler holding open the door to the room. A man stood in the door way dressed in all white leather with spangles and fringes up and down his outfit. It was Elvisda!
Glorfindel smiled. The bard sure knew how to make an entrance. As Elvisda walked over to the group by the fireplace. Lloyd turned back to Hightower and said, “Your lordship, this is another one or our companions, the Bard Elvisda.”
Hightower glanced over at Glorfindel with an eyebrow raised. Glorfindel replied quietly, “The social tutor we were talking about your Lordship.”
“Ahhhh,” Hightower smiled. Then he walked over to meet the bard halfway and extended his hand. “Elvisda. Well met. Your handiwork proceeds you.” Elvisda glanced at Glo who nodded his head towards Lloyd. “Ahhh yes,” Elvisda replied now understanding the reference. “He was a bit rough when he first came to us, but we managed to smooth out the edges.” The gentlemen all laughed and then Hightower bade Elvisda to join them. When they finally settled down, Hightower brought the bard up to speed on their discussion so far.
“Well then,” Elvisda said, “it is indeed as young Master Lloyd here states. The Thrall Masters have indeed returned. Now more than ever we must keep our movements secret. Lanfar is in league with the Dragon Thrall Master. And Dunwynn may be allied with Lanfar. But all is not lost yet. The lady Andrella safely travels with us and the Baron of Restenford is not yet lost. There may yet be a way to save him.” The bard continued telling of the ritual surrounding the Baron’s death and how it may be undone.
When he was finished, the Lord Hightower stood up and faced the fireplace for a moment obviously gathering his composure. Then he turned and said, “It would be good if we could indeed save Grellus. He was not only the Baron of Restenford, but he was a dear friend as well. What can I do to help you all?”
“First we need your secrecy, your lordship,” Elvisda began. “Our enemies are many at this point and seem to be doing their utmost to hamper our movements. Next we could use information. The wizard Peltar is our only lead at the moment. We have confirmation that he came to Lukecros a few days ago. We need to find him.”
“Done and done,” Hightower replied. “But there must be more we can do. How about supplies, and sanctuary here at our mansion while you stay in Lukescros?”
“Supplies would be most welcome your Lordship,” the bard said thankfully. “But as for a place to stay, we have rented a tower at the Bright Angel. I will be staying there. As for my companions here, however, I cannot say.”
Lloyd looked down at Andrella who nodded approvingly. Then the warblade spoke up. “We will gladly accept your hospitality your Lordship.”
“Good, good,” Hightower said enthusiastically. “This is probably the best place for the Lady Andrella. We are well fortified on this estate and have 400 cavalry and 800 foot soldiers on site. I daresay no one will make any attempts to scurry her Ladyship off to Dunwynn…without her approval that is.”
“Ahem, if I may,” Glorfindel added, “I would like to stay here as well your Lordship.”
“Yes, yes, the more the merrier,” Hightower responded jovially. He turned back to Elvisda and said, “Are you sure we can’t convince you?”
“Alas,” the bard replied, “the offer is tempting. But we have other companions as well, and I would be remiss if I did not report to them all that has transpired here this evening. But I will stay long enough to share a glass of brandy if I may.”
“Of course,” Lord Hightower replied with a smile as he reached for the nearby decanter. The group continued to sit, drink and discuss the affairs of the world as the day faded away into night.